System Operations FAQs

In Texas, surface water is owned by the State of Texas, which grants rights to use state water in streams, lakes and reservoirs. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) administers these rights. The Brazos River Authority (BRA) holds water rights authorizing the use of 661,901 acre-feet per year from 11 reservoirs in the Brazos River basin. The BRA, the City of Houston, and the Texas Water Development Board also jointly own a water right authorizing the use of 99,650 acre-feet per year from the proposed Allens Creek Reservoir.

The permit will authorize more flexible use of existing water supplies to help meet future Brazos basin water needs identified in the State Water Plan.

Simply stated, the whole (system) is greater than the sum of the parts (individual reservoirs and downstream sections of the river). Operating as a system means using the reservoirs and their water as efficiently and beneficially as possible. The manner in which BRA meets its customers' needs will be based on customer location, the amount of water stored in reservoirs, environmental flow requirements and needs of other water rights. System operation will give BRA the ability to make the best and most efficient use of water within the basin. For example, "wet" basin areas will be used to satisfy customer water needs where possible, conserving supplies in dry areas. As few as two reservoirs can create a "system" and provide benefits derived from a coordinated operation.

BRA owns three reservoirs, Possum Kingdom, Granbury, and Limestone. Possum Kingdom Lake was financed through a cooperative agreement with the federal government. Granbury was financed through a water sales contract with TXU (now Luminant), and Limestone was financed through water sales contracts with TXU and Reliant Energy (now NRG).

The BRA also holds water storage rights in eight other reservoirs owned by the federal government and operated and maintained by the US Army Corp of Engineers (COE). These reservoirs were built for flood control and water supply purposes. The BRA has contracts with the COE for the water supply portion of these reservoirs, known as the conservation pool.

In Texas, the state owns the land under the riverbed, in addition to the water that flows in the watercourse. To build a reservoir, the owner (in this case the BRA or Corps) buys the property or acquires the rights to the property to be inundated by the reservoir (adjacent to the riverbed), obtains a water right permit from the State of Texas authorizing the storage of the state's water, builds the dam and then maintains and operates the reservoir for its intended purpose, which is usually water supply storage, flood control, and/or hydroelectric generation.

Yes. The BRA has operated as a coordinated system for 40 years. However, existing water right permits issued many years ago limit the BRA's ability to beneficially use the additional water now shown to be available from system operation.

Yes. The permit will increase available supplies by allowing BRA to use previously unpermitted water and reservoir storage more efficiently.

Yes, but the unused water that exists today is already reserved through long-term contracts and will ultimately be used by the customers that hold those contracts in the coming years. While some of this water may be available on a short-term or temporary basis, it will not be available in the future for other entities that need more water for the long-term.

The BRA is in a unique position to use unappropriated water in the Brazos River Basin because of its system of reservoirs. Water stored in these reservoirs can be used to turn intermittent flows into a reliable supply. Even though there are frequently flows in the river, those flows are not consistent or reliable enough to be made useful for municipal or industrial users. To be reliable year-round, including during periods of drought, those flows must be supplemented by a stored water, such as that available in BRA's reservoir system. No other entity is in the position to develop such a reliable supply without the storage accessible to BRA.

BRA's rates are calculated on a "financial requirements" basis each year and adopted by the Board of Directors. Because the cost to develop this water is much less expensive than building a new reservoir, BRA will be able to defer costs associated with other more expensive projects and will maintain its water rates at levels that are among the most affordable in the state.

The permit will not affect existing water supply contracts. The permit will help the BRA maintain its System Rate for water at the most affordable levels possible by deferring costs associated with developing other more expensive water supply projects.

Yes. In order to meet permit requirements, the BRA is conducting a number of environmental studies to determine the needs of the environment. The permit also requires "adaptive management," meaning that some of its interim provisions must be reassessed and potentially modified in the future as more knowledge regarding the environment is gained. Finally, the permit contains a number of interim detailed flow requirements that must be met and accounted for before water can be used under the permit.

No. The permit is not expected to diminish existing water rights. The BRA used the official State Water Availability Model (WAM) for analysis and development of its permit application. This model accounts for and protects existing rights before a new appropriation is made.

No. The permit will allow the BRA to increase water available to its customers without the need for major new construction and potentially detrimental effects on the environment. While other new, more-environmentally sensitive projects will most likely be required to help meet future water needs, the System Operation Permit will help defer these projects.

Most of the additional water will become available due to:

  1. previously unappropriated yield in system reservoirs,
  2. appropriation of return flows, and
  3. improved efficiency from operating the BRA's reservoirs as a system in conjunction with downstream flows.

The additional water is expected to be sold to help supply future water needs identified in the regional and state water plans in the Brazos River basin. Development of these plans is a stakeholder-driven process that involves months of meetings and a variety of studies over a five year period. The meetings held with regard to the regional water plans are open to the public, and all citizens are welcome to express their opinions regarding water issues.

The citizens of the Brazos River basin will enjoy the end benefit from System Operation Permit as the entities now identified with shortages (municipalities, agriculture and industry) are able to meet future water needs. In addition to BRA's current customers, many of whom will need more water in the future; other potential water users are identified in the regional and state water plans.

No new infrastructure will be required by BRA to develop the additional raw water supply made available by the permit. However, new infrastructure could be required by customers to divert, convey, store, and treat the water for its intended use.

The means of delivery will depend on the customer's location. In general, water will be delivered downstream to the user via the bed and banks of the Brazos River and its tributaries, as well as direct diversion from the BRA's reservoirs.

Return flow is treated municipal wastewater effluent, or water that has been cleaned and released from a wastewater treatment plant into a creek, stream or river. According to Chapter 11 of the Texas Water Code, these waters, once released, come under the jurisdiction of the state. Cities may retain the use of their return flows by simply using the flows directly from their wastewater treatment plants before discharging them. The BRA seeks the use of these waters only after they have been discharged back into the river and only if the return flows' discharger doesn't have a local need for them.

The BRA's knowledge of the amount of treated wastewater effluent that is returned to streams is based on records maintained by TCEQ. The amount of future return flows is uncertain. The System Operation Permit will allow the BRA to make use of return flows that occur.

Most of the time, water use under this permit will not significantly impact lake-related recreation because the amount of water used will be relatively small when compared to the volume of water stored in the BRA reservoirs and the volumes of water flowing in the river. However, during droughts, lake levels will be affected to some degree.

For example, about 100,000 acre-feet of water is stored in the top one foot of the 11 existing reservoirs. So if 100,000 acre-feet of additional water was used under this permit and it was distributed evenly across all 11 reservoirs, the effect would be about a one foot decline in lake levels in addition to the decline expected without the permit. While recreation is an important secondary benefit provided by the BRA and the Corps reservoir projects, the primary purposes of these reservoirs has been and continues to be water supply and flood protection.

The BRA supports and encourages conservation and the wise use of water. As a wholesale water provider, the Texas Water Code requires the BRA to have a Water Conservation Plan in place and to pass the conditions contained within that plan on to its customers. The BRA also assists customers with water conservation and drought response efforts through educational programs and cooperation with state/federal agencies. All water supply customers of the BRA are required to meet state water conservation requirements.

While there are no specific projections, water is a necessary part of population and economic growth. By ensuring ample water supplies and helping to meet the needs of those communities as identified in the regional and state water plans, the permit encourages the economic development prospects for Brazos River basin communities.

No. The BRA's customers are almost exclusively municipal, irrigation and industrial users. The BRA uses the approved state and regional water plans as a guide when considering the sale of long-term water supply.

Yes, representatives from BRA communicated directly and repeatedly with all elected officials within the Brazos River basin when the application was made to TCEQ and during the development, review, and hearings process.

BRA sells water based on a system rate for all new water contracts. This rate, which is reviewed annually, is among the most inexpensive water rates in the state.

The BRA has worked extensively with the staffs of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to implement the concept of "adaptive management" with regard to environmental flows. This new approach to instream flows is an improvement over prior methods and is intended to help preserve historic stream conditions. Additionally, many current and future BRA customers are located downstream of its reservoirs. Use of the bed and banks of the rivers to deliver water to downstream customers during dry times will also provide environmental flow benefits. The impact of these deliveries was especially apparent during the 2011 drought, when river segments upstream of some BRA's reservoirs went dry. In these cases, releases from BRA reservoirs maintained flows.

The BRA is subject to the general oversight of TCEQ. Additionally, the System Operation Permit is subject to TCEQ's continuing jurisdiction. The BRA will also prepare a Water Management Plan that will remain subject to TCEQ's jurisdiction and which we anticipate will be reviewed by TCEQ every 10 years. This will assure the agency and the general public that BRA is not abusing the increased operational flexibility that comes with the System Operation Permit.

Generally speaking, as the state's population of grows, all water supply reservoirs will be used as they were first intended - water supply. As a result, all water supply reservoirs will fluctuate more frequently and to a greater extent as more water is needed. This will be the case with or without BRA's System Operation Permit. BRA will develop a Water Management Plan for operation of its reservoir system through a process that will include public meetings and public input.

The System Operation Permit will make water available for multiple purposes, including irrigation. Additionally, the BRA has a discounted water rate for customers who use water solely for agricultural productivity purposes.

The BRA's water sales are consistent with the regional and state water plans. It is BRA's policy that no water from the Brazos River basin will be sold outside the Brazos or its adjacent coastal basins (San Jacinto and the Brazos-Colorado basins) until all needs within the basin are met. Even with the System Operation Permit, there are future needs for additional water supply within the Brazos and its adjacent coastal basins. The System Operation Permit does not include a request for authorization to sell water to these cities or any city outside of the Brazos River basin or its adjacent coastal basins. Any attempt to sell water to these cities would require additional authorization from the state, including the full public process.