Brazos River

Last updated
Brazos River
Brazos River below Possum Kingdom Lake, Palo Pinto County, Texas.jpg
Brazos River downstream of Possum Kingdom Lake, Palo Pinto County, Texas
Brazos watershed.png
Brazos River watershed
Country United States
State Texas
Physical characteristics
Source Llano Estacado
Source confluence Stonewall County, Texas
  coordinates 33°16′07″N100°0′37″W / 33.26861°N 100.01028°W / 33.26861; -100.01028 [1]
  elevation453 m (1,486 ft)
Mouth Gulf of Mexico
Brazoria County, Texas
28°52′33″N95°22′42″W / 28.87583°N 95.37833°W / 28.87583; -95.37833 Coordinates: 28°52′33″N95°22′42″W / 28.87583°N 95.37833°W / 28.87583; -95.37833 [1]
0 m (0 ft)
Length1,352 km (840 mi)
Basin size116,000 km2 (45,000 sq mi)
  location Rosharon, TX
  average237.5 m3/s (8,390 cu ft/s)
  minimum0.76 m3/s (27 cu ft/s)
  maximum2,390 m3/s (84,000 cu ft/s)

The Brazos River ( /ˈbræzəs/ ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ) BRAZ-əs), called the Río de los Brazos de Dios (translated as "The River of the Arms of God") by early Spanish explorers, is the 11th-longest river in the United States at 1,280 miles (2,060 km) from its headwater source at the head of Blackwater Draw, Curry County, New Mexico [2] to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico with a 45,000-square-mile (116,000 km2) drainage basin. [3] Being one of Texas' largest rivers, [4] it is sometimes used to mark the boundary between East Texas and West Texas.


The river is closely associated with Texas history, particularly the Austin settlement and Texas Revolution eras. Today major Texas institutions like Baylor University and Texas A&M University are located close to the river, as are parts of metropolitan Houston.


The Brazos proper begins at the confluence of the Salt Fork and Double Mountain Fork, two tributaries of the Upper Brazos that rise on the high plains of the Llano Estacado, flowing 840 miles (1,350 km) southeast through the center of Texas. Another major tributary of the Upper Brazos is the Clear Fork Brazos River, which passes by Abilene and joins the main river near Graham. Important tributaries of the Lower Brazos include the Paluxy River, the Bosque River, the Little River, Yegua Creek, the Nolan River, the Leon River, the San Gabriel River, the Lampasas River, and the Navasota River. [5]

Initially running east towards Dallas-Fort Worth, the Brazos turns south, passing through Waco and the Baylor University campus, further south to near Calvert, Texas then past Bryan and College Station, then through Richmond, Texas in Fort Bend County, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico in the marshes just south of Freeport. [3]

The main stem of the Brazos is dammed in three places, all north of Waco, forming Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury, and Lake Whitney. Of these three, Granbury was the last to be completed, in 1969. When its construction was proposed in the mid-1950s, John Graves wrote the book Goodbye to a River . The Whitney Dam, located on the upper Brazos, provides hydroelectric power, flood control, and irrigation to enable efficient cotton growth in the river valley [6] . A small municipal dam (Lake Brazos Dam) is near the downstream city limit of Waco at the end of the Baylor campus; it raises the level of the river through the city to form a town lake. This impoundment of the Brazos through Waco is locally called Lake Brazos. A total of nineteen major reservoirs are located along the Brazos. [7]


An advertisement for the steamboat Yellow Stone, December 1836. Packet service between Quintana and Washington, Republic of Texas. Sb yellowstone dec36.png
An advertisement for the steamboat Yellow Stone, December 1836. Packet service between Quintana and Washington, Republic of Texas.

In 1822, the lower river valley of the Brazos River became one of the major Anglo-American settlement sites in Texas. This was one of the first English-speaking colonies along the Brazos and was founded by Stephen F. Austin at San Felipe de Austin. [8] In 1836, Texas declared independence from Mexico at Washington-on-the-Brazos, a settlement in now Washington County that is known as "the birthplace of Texas". [9] Brazos River was also the scene of a battle between the Texas Navy and Mexican Navy during the Texas Revolution. Texas Navy ship Independence was defeated by one Mexican vessel.

It is unclear when it was first named by European explorers, since it was often confused with the Colorado River not far to the south, but it was certainly seen by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Later Spanish accounts call it Los Brazos de Dios (the arms of God), for which name there were several different explanations, all involving it being the first water to be found by desperately thirsty parties. In 1842, Indian commissioner of Texas, Ethan Stroud established a trading post on this river.

The river was important for navigation before and after the American Civil War, and steam boats sailed as far up the river as Washington-on-the-Brazos. [10] While attempts to improve commercial navigation on the river continued, railroads proved more reliable. The Brazos River also flooded, often seriously, on a regular basis before a piecemeal levee system was replaced, notably in 1913 when a massive flood affected the course of the river. The river is primarily important today as a source of water for power, irrigation, and recreation. The water is administered by the Brazos River Authority. [5]

The 2000 book, Sandbars and Sternwheelers: Steam Navigation on the Brazos by Pamela A. Puryear and Nath Winfield, Jr., with introduction by J. Milton Nance, examines the early vessels that attempted to navigate the Brazos. [11]

On June 2, 2016, the rising of the river required evacuations for portions of Brazoria County. [12]

Brazos watershed

The Brazos River watershed covers a total area of 119,174 square kilometers. [13] Within the watershed lie 42 lakes and rivers which have a combined storage capacity of 2.5 million acre-feet. [14] The Brazos watershed also has an estimated ground water availability of 119,275 acre-feet per year. [15] Approximately 31% of the land use within the watershed is cropland. Approximately 61% is grassland (30%) shrubland (19.8%) and forest (11%) while urban use only makes up 4.6%. The population density within the watershed is 19.5 people per square kilometer. [13]

Water quality concerns

The main water quality issues within the Brazos Watershed are high nutrient loads, high bacterial and salinity levels and low dissolved oxygen. These water quality issues can be attributed to livestock, fertilizer and chemical run off. Sources of run off are croplands, pastures, and industrial sites among others. [16] Fracking is also cause for concern regarding water quality within the Brazos Watershed. The Barnett Shale lies partially within the watershed which is the second largest source of natural gas in the US. [17] Studies have shown that the watershed receiving the most toxic pollution is the lower Brazos river which received 33.4 million pounds of toxic waste in 2012. [18]


Canoeing is a very popular recreational activity on the Brazos River with many locations favorable for launching and recovery. The best paddling can be found immediately below Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Granbury. [19]

Sandbar Camping is also permitted since the entire streambed of the river is considered to be state-owned public property. Fishing, camping, and picnicking are legal here, including on the sandbars. [20] Several scout camps are located along the Brazos River and they support a wide range of water and shoreline activities for scouts, youth groups and family groups. [21]

The Brazos River Authority maintains several public campsites along the river and at the lakes. Hunting and fishing are also permitted at select locations along the river.

Outdoor enthusiasts have the opportunity to view the area's scenery and the wildlife on the river.[ citation needed ] Fly fishing and river fishing for largemouth bass are common. [22]

Cultural references

See also


  1. 1 2 "Brazos River". Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey.
  2. Kammerer, J.C. (1987). "Largest Rivers in the United States". United States Geological Survey . Retrieved 2006-07-15.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. 1 2 Hendrickson Kenneth E., Jr. (1999-02-15). "Brazos River". The Handbook of Texas Online. The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association. Archived from the original on July 10, 2011. Retrieved 2006-07-22.
  4. "Brazos River." Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 11 Aug. 2018. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
  5. 1 2 Hendrickson, Jr., Kenneth E. (1981). The Waters of the Brazos: A History of the Brazos River Authority 1929-1979. Waco, TX: The Texian Press.
  6. "Brazos River." Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 11 Aug. 2018. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
  7. "River Basin Map of Texas". Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin. 1996. Archived from the original (JPEG) on 2012-04-10. Retrieved 2006-07-15.
  8. "Brazos River." Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 11 Aug. 2018. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
  9. “Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site.” Texas Parks and Wildlife, 6 Nov. 2018,
  10. "BRAZOS RIVER". 12 June 2010.
  11. Sandbars and Sternwheelers: Steam Navigation on the Brazos. Texas A&M University Press. 2000. ISBN   1-58544-058-2 . Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  12. Foxhall, Emily. "Mandatory evacuations ordered in Brazoria County - Houston Chronicle". Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  13. 1 2 "USGS EDNA-Derived Watershed Characteristics". Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  14. "River Basins - Brazos River Basin | Texas Water Development Board". Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  15. "Brazos Valley Groundwater Conservation District". Brazos Valley Groundwater Conservation District. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  16. "The Brazos River Authority > About Us > Water Quality > Watershed Protection Plans > Leon River WPP". Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  17. "Texas and fracking - SourceWatch". Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  18. "Southern waters imperiled by toxic pollution". Facing South. 2014-06-23. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  19. "Brazos River & Paddling Trails - Parks & Recreation - City of Waco, Texas". Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  20. "The Brazos River Authority > About Us > Education > Water School". Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  21. "Texas Scout Camps". 2013-11-26. Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  22. "Home". Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  23. "Where the muddy Brazos / Spills into the Gulf of Mexico". Genius. Retrieved 2019-11-19.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Rio Grande River forming part of the US-Mexico border

The Rio Grande is one of the principal rivers in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. The Rio Grande begins in south-central Colorado in the United States and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. After passing through the length of New Mexico along the way, it forms part of the Mexico–United States border. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, its total length was 1,896 miles (3,051 km) in the late 1980s, though course shifts occasionally result in length changes. Depending on how it is measured, the Rio Grande is either the fourth- or fifth-longest river system in North America.

Waco, Texas Town in Texas, United States

Waco is a city in central Texas and is the county seat and largest city of McLennan County, Texas, United States. It is situated along the Brazos River and I-35, halfway between Dallas and Austin. The city had a 2010 population of 124,805, making it the 22nd-most populous city in the state. The 2018 US Census population estimate is 138,183. The Waco Metropolitan Statistical Area consists of McLennan and Falls Counties, which had a 2010 population of 234,906. Falls County was added to the Waco MSA in 2013. The 2018 US Census population estimate for the Waco MSA is 271,942.

Trinity River (Texas) river in Texas

The Trinity River is a 710-mile-long (1,140 km) river in Texas, and is the longest river with a watershed entirely within the U.S. state of Texas. It rises in extreme northern Texas, a few miles south of the Red River. The headwaters are separated by the high bluffs on the southern side of the Red River.

Guadalupe River (Texas) river in Texas, United States

The Guadalupe River runs from Kerr County, Texas, to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. It is a popular destination for rafting, fly fishing, and canoeing. Larger cities along it include Kerrville, New Braunfels, Seguin, Gonzales, Cuero, and Victoria. It has several dams along its length, the most notable of which, Canyon Dam, forms Canyon Lake northwest of New Braunfels.

<i>Goodbye to a River</i> book by John Graves

Goodbye to a River is a book by John Graves, published in 1960. It is a "semi-historical" account of a canoe trip made by the author during the fall of 1957 down a stretch of the Brazos River in North Central Texas, between Possum Kingdom Dam and Lake Whitney. The book presents both the author's account of the trip itself and numerous stories about the history and settlement of the area around the river and of North Central Texas. The title refers to Graves' childhood association with the river and the country surrounding it, and his fear of the "drowning" effect that a proposed series of flood-control dams would have on the river.

Verdigris River Tributary of the Arkansas River in Kansas and Oklahoma, USA

The Verdigris River is a tributary of the Arkansas River in southeastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma in the United States. It is about 310 miles (500 km) long. Via the Arkansas, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed.

Little River (Texas) river in Texas, United States of America

The Little River is a river in Central Texas in the Brazos River watershed. It is formed by the confluence of the Leon River and the Lampasas River near Little River, Texas in Bell County. It flows generally southeast for 75 miles (121 km) until it empties into the Brazos River about 5 miles (8.0 km) southwest of Hearne, at a site called Port Sullivan in Milam County. The Little River has a third tributary, the San Gabriel River, which joins the Little about 8 miles (13 km) north of Rockdale and five miles southwest of Cameron. Cameron, the county seat of Milam County and the only city of any significant size on the Little River, was established in 1846.

Lake Waco

Lake Waco is a reservoir located within the city limits of Waco, in McLennan County, Texas, which serves as the western border for the city of Waco. The dam is located on the Bosque River. The lake has 79,000 acre feet (97,000,000 m3) of water and is currently run by the Army Corps of Engineers. Lake Waco top of conservation pool was raised about 8 feet in 2005. This has helped with fishing.

Lake Granbury

Lake Granbury is a North Texas reservoir near Granbury, Texas. It was created in 1969 and is one of three lakes damming the Brazos River.

Brazos River Authority

The Brazos River Authority or BRA was created in 1929 by the Texas Legislature as a quasi-governmental entity to manage the Brazos River as a water resource in Texas. It was originally named the Brazos River Conservation and Reclamation District and renamed to the current name in 1953. The central office is located at 4600 Cobbs Drive in Waco.

De Cordova Bend Dam dam in Hood County, Texas, United States of America

The De Cordova Bend Dam is a man-made dam on the Brazos River in Hood County, Texas, United States, controlled by the Brazos River Authority. De Cordova Bend Dam forms the 8,300-acre (34 km2) Lake Granbury. The dam is so named because of the clockwise almost-complete loop in the Brazos River named De Cordova Bend after Jacob De Cordova.

Clear Fork Brazos River river in the United States of America

The Clear Fork Brazos River is the longest tributary of the Brazos River of Texas. It originates as a dry channel or draw in Scurry County about 2 mi (3.2 km) northeast of Hermleigh and runs for about 180 mi (290 km) through portions of Scurry, Fisher, Jones, Shackelford and Throckmorton counties before joining the main stem of the Brazos River in Young County about 7.8 mi (12.6 km) south-southeast of Graham, Texas.

White River (Texas) intermittent stream in Texas, United States

The White River is an intermittent stream in the South Plains of Texas and a tributary of the Brazos River of the United States. It rises 8 miles (13 km) west of Floydada in southwestern Floyd County at the confluence of Callahan and Runningwater Draws. From there, it runs southeast for 62 miles (100 km) to its mouth on the Salt Fork of the Brazos River in northwestern Kent County. Besides these two headwaters, which rise near Hale Center and in Curry County, New Mexico, respectively, other tributaries include Pete, Crawfish, and Davidson Creeks. The White River drains an area of 1,690 sq mi (4,377 km2).

Central Texas geographic region

Central Texas is a region in the U.S. state of Texas surrounding Austin and roughly bordered by San Saba to Bryan and San Marcos to Hillsboro. Central Texas overlaps with and includes part of the Texas Hill Country and corresponds to a physiographic section designation within the Edwards Plateau, in a geographic context.

Double Mountain Fork Brazos River river in United States

The Double Mountain Fork Brazos River is an ephemeral, sandy-braided stream about 170 mi (280 km) long, heading on the Llano Estacado of West Texas about 11.5 mi (18.5 km) southeast of Tahoka, Texas, flowing east-northeast across the western Rolling Plains to join the Salt Fork, forming the Brazos River about 17 mi (27 km) west-northwest of Haskell, Texas.

<i>Yellowstone</i> (steamboat) steamboat

The steamboat Yellowstone was a side wheeler steamboat built in Louisville, Kentucky, for the American Fur Company for service on the Missouri River. By design, the Yellowstone was the first powered boat to reach above Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River achieving, on her maiden voyage, Fort Tecumseh, South Dakota, on June 19, 1831. The Yellowstone also played an important role in the Texas Revolution of 1836, crossing the Texas Army under Sam Houston over the swollen Brazos River ahead of Santa Anna's pursuing Mexican Army.

The following is a timeline of the history of the city of Waco, Texas, USA.