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ON THE RIVER

Summer has arrived, the weather is warm and kids are out of school. For many, the extra time and beautiful weather is greeted by an urge to get out on the Brazos or one of Texas other scenic rivers to go tubing, canoeing or kayaking.

It’s a great way to get out and enjoy a natural wonder that belongs to all Texans. Unfortunately, as summer continues, that same sunny weather that draws so many to the water can take a toll on a river’s level. Come late June or July, seasonal rains taper off, and it is not unheard of to see river flows in places of 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) or less, well below the minimum needed for a pleasant paddle trip.

However, there is good news. While some stretches of the river might be low, there are plenty of other places where one can enjoy Texas’ mighty Brazos.

This time last year, much of the state was in the midst of a devastating drought. Low flows in the river were accompanied by severe drops in lake levels. This year, the rain has been much kinder to Texas and while flows may be moderate, as of late June the Brazos River Authority’s lakes are full or close to it.

Why then, one might ask, doesn’t the Authority release some of that water to help downstream paddlers? In fact, the Authority maintains a continuous low-flow water release from each of the reservoirs into the river below. This release can be as much as a couple hundred cfs, depending on the lake. However, given the reality that drought will one day come again, the authority maintains the lakes near full as often as possible, limiting releases during dry periods. This is to help serve our customers who depend on our water for their homes or businesses.

The good news is, when the lakes are full, any rain that falls upstream will be allowed to pass through for paddlers to use below the dam. And even when conditions are less than ideal for paddlers at some of the more popular stretches of river, such as below Possum Kingdom and Granbury lakes, one can find substitutes that are just as beautiful within a reasonable distance. You might consider paddling in an area that is backed up behind a dam, such as a little upstream from one of the Authority lakes or upriver from Waco. Also, the Brazos often has a good flow through the coastal plains as one approaches the Gulf of Mexico.

A good resource with maps and other information about many popular sections of the Brazos is Southwest Paddler, which can be found by clicking here. Also, information about paddling the Brazos through much of the coastal plains can be found by clicking here for the Web site of Houston Wilderness. This group is dedicated to promoting natural areas around Houston, including the Brazos River Trail.

The following chart will help you understand the quality of the river flows for paddling.

200 or less cfs   Below minimum needed for paddling.

201 to 500          Satisfactory but may require a good amount of paddling or portaging.

501 to 1,200       Ideal conditions.

1,200 to 3,000    Hazardous conditions, requires plenty of skill, not for beginners

3,001 to 5,000    Experts only.

5,001 or more    Flood conditions, not safe for anyone at any expertise level.

Here are answers to some of the more common questions about river recreation.

Where can I launch my canoe along the Brazos River?
Although the Brazos River Authority does not have launch points on the Brazos, many such locations are available. The most popular paddling sites are the stretches of river below Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Granbury as well as the Gulf Coast region. You can find points below the dam at Possum Kingdom Lake by clicking here and below Lake Granbury, here.

Information about the Gulf Coast’s Brazos River Trail can be found on the Houston Wilderness Web site, here. Another great resource for paddling the Brazos is Southwest Paddler, which can be found here.

Can I camp along the river?
The bed and banks of the Brazos River are public lands. Camping, as well as activities such as fishing and picnicking are allowed within the riverbed. However, most of the property along the banks is privately owned, so one should be careful near those areas to avoid violating trespassing laws.

The river’s many sandbars are ideal spots for campers to pitch their tents. However, when camping, picnicking or paddling along the river, it is important to stay alert for possible rapid increases in river levels and speed due to rainstorms or water being released from the upstream dam. You can check the Authority’s home page, here, before you go to see if any releases are planned, or call the Authority’s Public Information Office at (888) 922-6272.

How much of the riverbed is public lands?
Under Texas law, the river bed is public property up to the “gradient boundary.’ Though the definition of the boundary can be confusing, it roughly means the point where more woody plants begin to grow.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department provides an excellent explanation of laws pertaining to issues of stream bed and banks in Texas, click here.

Can I hunt in the riverbed?
Yes, since the riverbed is public land, hunting is allowed there. However, hunters should be mindful that state law prohibits motor vehicles, both tracked and wheeled, from Texas riverbeds. Hunters are also not allowed to fire across or enter private property along the river banks without the property owner’s permission.

Are there speed limits for boats on the river?
While there are no numerical speed limits, game wardens and other officer may issue citations for excessive speed or reckless operation. Excessive speed is a rate greater than is reasonable or prudent without regard for conditions and hazards, or greater than a speed where a person can stop a boat to a stop with clear distance ahead. It is up to boaters to use common sense, and operate at a safe speed, especially in crowded areas.

Is there a limit on the amount of noise boats can make on the river?
State law does not set a maximum noise level specifically for boats in public areas. However, boat operators potentially could be cited for disorderly conduct if the noise exceeds 85 decibels in a public area or near a private residence. Also, motorboats must have an exhaust water manifold or a factory type muffler installed on the engine.

Are open containers of alcohol allowed on the river?
It is not illegal to consume alcohol when camping or boating on a river or lake in Texas. However, it is illegal to drive a motorized boat while intoxicated or to be publically intoxicated.

Texas game wardens, county sheriffs and their deputies, and local police can ticket or arrest you for boating while intoxicated or being drunk and disorderly. The blood-alcohol limit for boating while intoxicated is .08 percent, the same as for driving while intoxicated.