THE BRAZOS RIVER BETWEEN LAKES GRANBURY AND WHITNEY,

A STATEMENT BY ED LOWE 

The Brazos River below Lake Granbury is an ecosystem in peril.  I am writing this open letter as a river-frontage property owner, a river guide, an environmentalist and a concerned citizen.  This section of the Brazos is the most beautiful piece of flowing water within easy driving distance of Dallas-Fort Worth, indeed one of the most beautiful in the state, traditionally enjoyed by large numbers of Texans who have fished, boated, swum, hunted, and bird-watched along it.   Recently, however, it has become much less attractive, as a result of over-allocation of its water by the Brazos River Authority (BRA), which has had deleterious effects not only on its esthetic and recreation appeal, but also on the ecological integrity of the lands along its shores, the agricultural practices  there, and on the very health of those who use its waters.

The mean streamflow of the Brazos at the Glen Rose gauging station just upstream from the confluence with the Paluxy River and Squaw Creek for the period from 8/19/2002 to 8/17/2004 was:

Below 25 cfs   117 days    16.1%

26-50        cfs    241 days     33.1%

51-75        cfs      56 days      7.7%

76-100     cfs     31 days     4.3%

Over 100  cfs   279 days    38.3%

During the period from 6/25/2003 to 8/9/2003, there were 32 days below 25 cfs.

During the period from 12/15/2003 to 2/23/2204, there were only 2 days when the mean streamflow exceeded 50 cfs. If you assume that the minimum instream flow to maintain this ecosystem is found to be around 100 cfs as it was on the San Marcos and Guadalupe, then you can also assume that a flow below 100 cfs 62% of the time is having devastating effects. Also consider that the spring and summer of 2004 have seen record rainfalls in the upstream watershed. The historical data at this gauging station shows that the average annual mean streamflow  from 1984-1992 was 1874 cfs. From 1993-2002, it was 782 cfs, a reduction of 58%.

The data for 2002-2004 confirms the further loss of streamflow as a result of  the new Wolf Creek Power Plant, a gas-fueled, steam-powered installation about 15 miles downstream from Lake Granbury, which went on line in 2002 and began using additional large quantities of Brazos water, having purchased the rights to 10,000 acre-feet per year from the BRA.  In such steam-plant use, 80% of the water is lost to evaporation, leaving in this case 2000 acre-feet per year to come back hot to the poor Brazos.  This action was taken by the BRA without an environmental impact study by the Texas Natural Resource Commission (TNRC, now the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, or TCEQ).

Keep in my mind that the cooling water for the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant is drawn out of Lake Granbury as well.

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I will list here some of the already noticeable results of these reductions in the river’s flow: 

Health:  In 1998, before these Wolf Hollow withdrawals began, a boy from Joshua, Texas, died from primary amoebic meningo encephalitis after swimming in the Brazos near Glen Rose, and there has been at least one other suspected death of a local youth from such an infection.  This dangerous amoeba occurs in warm stagnant water, a product of low flows.

Agriculture:  The longtime owner of large acreage on the Brazos recently told me that her numerous large and productive pecan trees have begun to die, and she suspects low flows have been the cause.  Some informal research indicates that the probable direct cause is increased salinity in the riparian water table resulting from low flows.  Similar adverse effects are undoubtedly damaging other crops in irrigated riverside fields.

Environment:  Evidence of damage to wild riverside plant life, like that described above, should be easy to establish.  Adverse influence on fish, birds, and animals will require more study, though some is already evident.  I have seen, for instance, fewer bald eagles along the river since the Wolf Hollow Plant went on line, and the late-winter upstream spawning run of white bass, crappie, freshwater drum, and other species from Lake Whitney has been greatly diminished and often doesn’t occur at all.   I sincerely believe that if this excessive shrinkage of flow is examined by knowledgeable scientists, they will conclude that the river’s ecosystem is in imminent danger of destruction.

Recreation:  An example of the healthy pleasure that Brazos has furnished to Texans in the past, and could still furnish if it contained a reasonable amount of running water, occurred not long ago when a period of heavy rains in the region caused the release of 500 cfs from Lake Granbury for a couple of weeks or so.  During that time I guided two separate groups of city youngsters on canoe trips down this stretch, a brand-new experience for them.  I am not capable of describing what a magnificent time was had by all, including myself.  But that sort of enjoyment of the river is usually not feasible now, with the diminished flows that have become the norm.  The proprietors of local canoe liveries and their employees have had to take second jobs because there is only occasionally enough demand for their rental craft to create a profit.  Furthermore, the operators of two of these establishments, Low Water Canoes and Rhodes Canoes, have taken the amoeba threat so seriously that they will not rent boats to groups with small children during the hot summer months. 

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In contrast to the Brazos, detailed studies of the upper Guadalupe and the San Marcos Rivers have demonstrated that a minimum of about 100 cfs is required to maintain a healthy riparian ecosystem.  The purpose of this statement of mine is to call attention to the great disparity between the conditions that ought to prevail on this part of the Brazos and the actual state of things.  I hope it will help to bring about three main results:

(1)  A scientific analysis to determine what minimum instream flow in this stretch of the river should be maintained in order to support a healthy riparian eco-system.  Such a study might be conducted by a university’s environmental science staff, by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TP&WD), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), or by any other organization with the scientific capability to carry it out and a desire to help.

(2)    Determination of which official state agency the resulting data should be submitted to .  I am not sufficiently informed on this point to know where that data would receive the fairest consideration, whether at the BRA, the TP&WD, the TCEQ, or the Texas State Legislature.

(3)   Organization of an informed and concerned citizens’ group to accompany and support the scientists when their findings are submitted to the appropriate state organization at a public meeting with the press in attendance.

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In the recent “State of the Rivers” edition of  Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, there is mention of a book entitled How to Save a River: a Handbook for Citizen Action.  The author’s primary suggestion to anyone wanting to be a river advocate is “First, fall in love.” That is what my friend John Graves did more than forty years ago, on his trip down the Brazos that is described in his Goodbye to a River. Now it’s our turn to defend and attempt to restore this wonderful piece of water before it is too late.

Ed Lowe