Friends of the Brazos Contest Brazos River Authority Systems Operation Permit Application
by Tyson Broad
Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club consists of over 25,000 members.
The Chapter spans the entire state of Texas, excepting El Paso, which
is part of the Rio Grande Chapter. neil_ firstname.lastname@example.org
Located in Austin, the Lone Star Chapter's State Conservation Office
serves Sierrans as their grassroots communications center. We also provide
Sierrans with a full time professional activist staff employed to represent
Sierrans as we fight at the state level to protect and conserve Texas'
diverse and valuable natural heritage.
June of 2004, the Brazos River Authority (BRA),
which owns twelve major dams on the Brazos River
and its tributaries, submitted to TCEQ, a water
right application for a “system operation permit”.
This permit requests legal control of an additional
1.1 million acre-feet/year of water (one acre
foot = 326,000 gallons, for context, the City
of Austin currently uses about 150,000 ac-ft/yr).
This additional water would become available
through system operational flexibility among
the reservoirs and laying claim to any and all
existing and future wastewater return flows
in the basin.
It is unclear to whom the Brazos River Authority intends to sell
the water claimed in the systems operation permit. According to the
recently prepared water plans for the Brazos basin (Regions G and
H) only about 185,000 ac-ft/yr would be used to satisfy demands in
the immediate area and Houston through 2060
water supply from existing dams and reservoirs
and through reuse of wastewater may seem like
attractive options, these are not without pitfalls.
First, many of the dams controlled by BRA have
little or no requirements to maintain downstream “environmental
flows”, those flows necessary to sustain
fish and wildlife. Some of those river reaches
may currently benefit from released water that
BRA passes to meet contractual sales of water
from specific reservoirs. With complete flexibility
to satisfy those demands from other reservoirs
on different tributaries, some of the reaches
could be severely affected. Wastewater from municipalities
can be an important part of flow in streams and
rivers, especially during our frequent drought
periods. Permits to consume more of this water
must be cognizant of this fact.
the Brazos River (FBR) is an organization of
concerned citizens, landowners, boaters, anglers,
and recreational users working to protect the
Brazos, primarily between Lake Granbury and Lake
Whitney. As such, they have joined several other
organizations, including the National Wildlife
Federation (one of the Lone Star Chapter’s
partners in the Texas Living Waters Project), in filing a contested
case hearing with TCEQ on the Brazos River Authority’s
System Operation Permit to prevent further over-allocation
of sold water; Stuart Henry, longtime water attorney,
is representing The Friends of the Brazos River.
The Friends of the Brazos River has also hired
Joe Trungale Engineering and Science to prepare
a benchmark study on the health and sustainability
of the Brazos along this segment of the River.
During the weekend of November 12th, the Friends
of the Brazos River invited several outdoor/environmental
writers from around the State (as well as this
Lone Star Chapter Staff Research Associate, Tyson Broad),
to Glen Rose to call attention to the developing
situation along the Brazos. Even without the proposed
Systems Operation Permit, there are already concerns
about the effects of low-flow conditions along
Ed Lowe, President
of the organization, noted that between August, 2002
and August, 2004, the flow of the Brazos at Glen Rose
USGS gage has been below 50 cfs almost 50 percent of
the time, despite record rainfalls in the upper
watershed during the spring and summer of 2004. Average
annual mean streamflow from 1984-1992 was 1874 cfs,
but only 782 cfs from 1993-2002, a 58% reduction. The
reduction in flows have raised concerns about
increased salinity levels in the river and its effects
on riparian habitat, reduced recreational opportunities
and effects on the economy, and most importantly, the
recurrence of dangerous amoebas that have been
found in the warm, stagnant waters of the Brazos. In
1998, a boy died from primary amoebic miningo encephalitis
after swimming in the Brazos near Glen Rose.
Ed Lowe, who
is also the owner of Celebration Restaurant
in Dallas, hosted the writers at his Brazos
riverside home Friday night. Also attending
was noted writer John Graves and his wife, Jane.
During the evening, Mr. Lowe noted that much of
the loss in streamflow could be attributed to
a new gas-fueled power plant downstream from Lake
Granbury. In 2002, this plant began using their
permit to annually withdraw 10,000 ac-ft
from the Brazos. The right to use this water was
granted by the Brazos River Authority without
any environmental review from TCEQ. BRA claims
it was simply a ‘business transaction’.
Saturday morning found the invitees canoeing and kayaking on the
Brazos. Ironically enough, there were sufficient flows in the river.
For the previous 3-4 weekends, BRA has been releasing water from Lake
the group gathered at an informal meeting of
the Friends of the Brazos River to discuss the
issues and what can be done. This is a diverse
group of members, including many retirees living
along the river. As one member noted,“It’s a sad
day when a bunch of old gray hairs have to do the work of the state
agencies. I never thought I’d be on the
same side as bunny kissers and tree-huggers, but
here I am.” The
focus of what is to be done is to join with other
groups to oppose the BRA permit process. Such
an unlikely confederation of environmental, water
supply, power, mining, chemical, ranching, wildlife,
and recreational interests will create a unified
voice against this over-reaching water-rights
For more information on Friends of the Brazos
River, contact Ed Lowe (email@example.com)
or call (214) 802-6811.
Tyson Broad may be contacted
at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 477-1729.