Colorado River (Texas)

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Colorado River
Mount Bonnell 2008.jpg
Colorado River in Austin as seen from Mount Bonnell
ColoradoTexas Watershed.png
Map of the Colorado River and associated watershed
Country United States
State Texas
Physical characteristics
  location Dawson County
  coordinates 32°40′47″N101°43′51″W / 32.67972°N 101.73083°W / 32.67972; -101.73083 [1]
  elevation3,280 ft (1,000 m) [2]
Mouth Matagorda Bay
Gulf of Mexico, at Matagorda County, Texas
28°35′41″N95°58′59″W / 28.59472°N 95.98306°W / 28.59472; -95.98306 Coordinates: 28°35′41″N95°58′59″W / 28.59472°N 95.98306°W / 28.59472; -95.98306 [1]
0 ft (0 m) [2]
Length862 mi (1,387 km)
Basin size39,900 sq mi (103,000 km2) [3]
  location Bay City
  average2,609 cu ft/s (73.9 m3/s)
  minimum0 cu ft/s (0 m3/s)
  maximum84,100 cu ft/s (2,380 m3/s)

The Colorado River is an approximately 862-mile (1,387 km) long river [4] in the U.S. state of Texas. It is the 18th longest river in the United States [4] and the longest river with both its source and its mouth within Texas. [3]


Its drainage basin and some of its usually dry tributaries extend into New Mexico. It flows generally southeast from Dawson County through Ballinger, Marble Falls, Austin, Bastrop, Smithville, La Grange, Columbus, Wharton, and Bay City before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at Matagorda Bay. [3]


Oblique air photo of the Colorado River where it crosses from Colorado County into Wharton County near Nada. Colorado River Texas Nada.jpg
Oblique air photo of the Colorado River where it crosses from Colorado County into Wharton County near Nada.

The Colorado River originates south of Lubbock, on the Llano Estacado, near Lamesa. It flows generally southeast, out of the Llano Estacado and through the Texas Hill Country, through several reservoirs including Lake J.B. Thomas, E.V. Spence Reservoir, and Lake O.H. Ivie. The river flows through several more reservoirs before reaching Austin, including Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake Lyndon B. Johnson (commonly referred to as Lake LBJ), and Lake Travis. The Llano River joins the Colorado at Lake LBJ near Kingsland. The Pedernales River joins the Colorado at Lake Travis near Briarcliff. After passing through Austin, the Colorado River continues flowing southeast until emptying into Matagorda Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, near Matagorda.


The Colorado River, which means "red" [5] or "reddish" river in Spanish, [6] was frequently confused by Spanish explorers with the Brazos River to the north. [3] The European discoverer of these two neighboring rivers called the present Colorado River the Brazos de Dios, and called the present Brazos the Colorado River, and later the names were reversed. [6]

The upper Colorado River was controlled by Comanches from the early 18th century to the late 19th century. In 1757, Spanish Texas attempted to establish an outlying Catholic mission on the San Saba River, near its confluence with the Colorado River. Nearly defenseless and viewed by the Comanche tribe as a territorial invasion, the mission was sacked in 1758 by about 2,000 Comanches and their allies. The Comanche were not effectively challenged on the upper Colorado River for nearly a century. [7]

River modifications

The river is an important source of water for farming, cities, and electrical power production. Major man-made reservoirs on the river include Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Lady Bird Lake in Austin. Collectively, these lakes are known as the Highland Lakes. In addition to power plants operating on each of the major lakes, waters of the Colorado are used for cooling the South Texas Nuclear Project, near Bay City. The Colorado River Municipal Water District owns and operates three reservoirs upstream of the Highland Lakes, Lake J. B. Thomas near Snyder, E.V. Spence Reservoir near Robert Lee, and O. H. Ivie Reservoir near Ballinger.

Flood control and use of the Colorado River is managed by two agencies established by the Texas Legislature, the Upper Colorado River Authority, and the Lower Colorado River Authority. There are 11 major reservoirs along the Colorado River. [8]

Major tributaries

The Colorado River is joined by five significant tributaries: Concho River, Pecan Bayou, Llano River, San Saba River and Pedernales River. Beals Creek is also a tributary fed by arroyos such as Sulphur Springs Draw, McKenzie, Seminole, Monument, Mustang, Midland, and Johnson Draws. [9]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Colorado River". Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey.
  2. 1 2 Google Earth elevation for GNIS coordinates.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Clay, Comer; Kleiner, Diana J. (1999-02-15). "Colorado River". The Handbook of Texas Online. The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association . Retrieved 2006-07-22.
  4. 1 2 Kammerer, J.C. (1987). "Largest Rivers in the United States". United States Geological Survey . Retrieved 2006-07-15.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. "Colorado - Diccionario Inglés-Español".
  6. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Colorado, a river of Texas"  . The American Cyclopædia .
  7. Hämäläinen, Pekka (2008). The Comanche Empire. Yale University Press. pp. 58–60. ISBN   978-0-300-12654-9. Online at Google Books
  8. "River Basin Map of Texas". Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin. 1996. Archived from the original (JPEG) on 2006-07-12. Retrieved 2006-07-15.
  9. Rand McNally and Company. The road atlas, large scale '07 (Map). pp. 199-200. ISBN   9780528958342

Related Research Articles

Lower Colorado River Authority

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is a nonprofit public utility created in November 1934 by the Texas Legislature. LCRA's mission is to enhance the lives of the Texans it serves through water stewardship, energy and community service. LCRA provides public power, manages the lower Colorado River, builds and operates transmission lines, owns public parks, and offers community services.

Lake Travis reservoir

Lake Travis is a reservoir on the Colorado River in central Texas in the United States. The reservoir was formed in 1942 by the construction of Mansfield Dam on the western edge of Austin, Texas by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), and was built specifically to contain floodwaters in a flash-flood prone region. During its construction, after a severe flood in July 1938, the height of the dam was raised to add storage capacity for floodwaters.

Lake Austin water reservoir on the Colorado River in Austin, Texas

Lake Austin, formerly Lake McDonald, is a water reservoir on the Colorado River in Austin, Texas. The reservoir was formed in 1939 by the construction of Tom Miller Dam by the Lower Colorado River Authority. Lake Austin is one of the seven Highland Lakes created by the LCRA, and is used for flood control, electrical power generation, and recreation.

Brazos River river in Texas

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The Texas Highland Lakes is a chain of six fresh water reservoirs in Central Texas formed by six dams on the lower Colorado River. The Texas Colorado River winds southeast from West Texas to Matagorda Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Lake Lyndon B. Johnson Reservoir in the United States

Lake Lyndon B. Johnson is a reservoir on the Colorado River in the Texas Hill Country about 45 miles northwest of Austin. The reservoir was formed in 1950 by the construction of Granite Shoals Dam by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). The Colorado River and the Llano River meet in the northern portion of the lake at Kingsland.

Lake Buchanan (Texas) lake in Texas, United States of America

Lake Buchanan was formed by the construction of Buchanan Dam by the Lower Colorado River Authority to provide a water supply for the region and to provide hydroelectric power. Buchanan Dam, a structure over 2 mi (3.2 km) in length, was completed in 1939. Lake Buchanan was the first of the Texas Highland Lakes to be formed, and with 22,333 acres of surface water, it is also the largest. The surface of the lake includes area in both Burnet and Llano Counties. The lake is west of the city of Burnet, Texas.

Llano Estacado Southwestern United States in New Mexico and Texas

The Llano Estacado, commonly known as the Staked Plains, is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. One of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American continent, the elevation rises from 3,000 feet (900 m) in the southeast to over 5,000 feet (1,500 m) in the northwest, sloping almost uniformly at about 10 feet per mile (1.9 m/km).

Pedernales River river in the United States of America

The Pedernales River is a tributary of the Colorado River, approximately 106 miles (171 km) long, in central Texas in the United States. It drains an area of the Edwards Plateau, flowing west to east across the Texas Hill Country west of Austin. The name "Pedernales", first used in the middle 18th century, comes from a Spanish word for the flint rocks characteristic of the riverbed.

Area code 979

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Rath City, Texas Ghost Town in Texas, United States

Rath City was a frontier town which existed for fewer than five years and is now a ghost town. The town was located on the Double Mountain Fork Brazos River, 14 miles northwest of Hamlin in southern Stonewall County, Texas, United States.

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

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Central Texas geographic region

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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.

North Fork Double Mountain Fork Brazos River river in the United States of America

The North Fork Double Mountain Fork Brazos River is an intermittent stream about 75 mi (121 km) long, heading at the junction of Blackwater Draw and Yellow House Draw in the city of Lubbock, flowing generally southeastward to its mouth on the Double Mountain Fork Brazos River in western Kent County. It crosses portions of Lubbock, Crosby, Garza, and Kent counties in West Texas.