Journey Down the Brazos

By  | 

It's the longest river in Texas and the 11th longest in the nation.

It's also the namesake of the area in which we live...the Brazos Valley.

So what's important about the Brazos River, and what does it's history have to do with our future?

Since its discovery, it's been known as "Rio de los Brazos de Dios," or "the River of the Arms of God".

Today the Brazos River is embedded deep in the history of Texas, especially at Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site in Washington County.

The area is credited with the phrase, "where Texas became Texas".

But if it hadn't been for the river, the town and even the state as we know it, may not have existed at all.

Turns out the Brazos was the key to our wealth and development.

Adam Arnold with Washington on the Brazos says the river is how farmers and tradesmen got good to ports near the Gulf to bigger cities.

The town of Washington became a strong trading center because of the intersection of the road and the river.

However the introduction of ferry boats also played a huge role.

"The first business to first set up shop in this area was actually a ferry crossing. It's called Robinson's Ferry and opened in 1822.
it was a major lifeline in Texas carrying from one side of the old highway to the other side," said Arnold. "As things progressed the river is what made this area wealthy. It was the king of transportation it moved finished goods in and raw materials out."

But that king was eventually dethroned and all that success eventually came to an end, thanks to the introduction of the railroad in Texas.

"Washington was actually offered one of the main branches of the first Texas rail line, the Houston and Texas central," Arnold said.
"But the town refused when it learned that it would have to pay for the expansion. Navasota, the neighboring town, accepted the offer and they would get the railroad...that's what eventually killed off our little town."

"Historically the Brazos is a notorious flooder and while floods are extremely destructive, they are really good for the soil," he said. "The most epic floods were in 1913 and 1921. Both caused the Brazos River and the Colorado river to merge and produced a flood spread of about 50 miles."

As Brad Brunett with the Brazos River Authority tells it, flooding was also a curse and a blessing for the early Texas town.

Those significant droughts or floods from the 1920s to 1950s that shaped the water control we have today.

In 1929, none of the 11 reservoirs the Brazos River Authority has now existed.

Possum Kingdom was the first, and it was built in the 1930s.

Today the Authority's main purpose is to manage every drop of water that flows from the river's beginning to its end.

The amount of water that's managed and the way water gets from the river to homes and businesses is hard to imagine.

"We have customers in the driest year of 2011 that used almost 500,000 acre feet of water that were provided from those reservoirs.
If it was not for them being there to store water when have we conditions like we've had this year, there would be little to no water in the river for anybody." said Brunett.

But the benefits of the river also flow into local industries.

By the time the Brazos River makes it to the Gulf of Mexico it has traveled more than 800 miles and supplied the state of Texas with 6.7 billion gallons of water for agriculture, wildlife, and industry.

But it's in Freeport, Texas where the Brazos River Authority has it's largest customer...which is also the biggest chemical producer in the western hemisphere.

Dow Chemical provides the means of making many products that we use everyday.

Tim Finley with Dow says the Brazos helps them and is key to that production.

"Things like the nifty screen on your electronic device is a product of raw material that Dow makes that kind of enables new technology components in shoes any other range that are synthetic materials that we use in our daily life are made at this facility," said Finley.

But Dow also knows that while we've had a plentiful year of rainfall, another drought greatly increases the importance of conservation.

"A lot of people need the river you know the challenge aspect of managing the river is understanding its ability to supply water and its limitations," Finley added.

And as Brad Brunett with the Brazos River Authority will tell you, it's those limitations that they're focused on, as well.

It is important when we have as much water as we have this year it's easy to forget that we've released 10 times the amount of water as what we use in a normal year," Brunett explained. " The problem is we know we are in Texas...I've heard a saying from some of the old timers, the day you close the last gate on the reservoir...may be the first day of the next drought."

From it's source, which is far northwest in Stonewall County, the Brazos eventually feeds nearly a dozen reservoirs and has many tributaries -- including several in the Brazos Valley including the Navasota River and Yegua Creek which forms Lake Somerville.

Eventually the river it trickles back down to Washington on the Brazos..where the river has not only carved the Texas landscape...but also our history.

The Brazos continues to impact us today.

It has witnessed time, yet it's set to carry on for years to come, as the worthy namesake of the Brazos Valley.