County, Lower Brushy Creek WCID drafting new agreement

A most important question at the Milam County Commissioners Court is should the county sign a watershed agreement with the Lower Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District.

Before going further, let’s review the history and reason for the Lower Brushy Creek WCID.

W.R. Poage, Texas’ 11th District U.S. Representative from 1937 to 1978, authored the “Upstream Flood Prevention Program” which became law in the 1950s. The original Brushy Creek WCID was created in 1957 as the first project approved under this program in the entire United States.

A total of 57 dams were approved to build in the watershed of the Brushy Creek in Williamson and Milam counties. Forty-eight have been built to date using millions of dollars provided by federal and state agencies.

The dams are designed to reduce the intensity of a flood by holding back runoff from heavy rains in the 340,000-plus acres of Brushy Creek watershed and then releasing the excess water at a more regular rate as it heads downstream to the San Gabriel River in Milam County. 

In 2001, the original Brushy Creek WCID was divided into the Lower and Upper Brushy Creek WCIDs. The Lower Brushy Creek WCID’s boundaries incorporate a part of western Milam County and southeast Williamson County. 

Although only one of the 23 dams managed by Lower Brushy Creek WCID is located within the county’s borders, Milam County is the beneficiary of the full flood prevention provided by the 48 dams upstream.

Before the Brushy Creek WCIDs were established, several floods involving Brushy Creek took place. A 1903 newspaper report included: “Brushy Creek went out over the valleys, doing much damage. It was this flood of water that put Little River out in places.” 

But the most devastating flood involving Brushy Creek may have occurred in 1921 when more than 100 people died in Williamson and Milam counties. A newspaper account described the devastation: “Just east of Thorndale, the railroad grade, 20 feet in height, was leveled by flood waters. A mile of track and bridge trestle of the International and Great Northern across the Brushy was washed away. The San Gabriel River spread out to a distance of three miles width north of Thorndale, and down by the forks it was seven miles across.” 

The 1921 flood was cited as one of the reasons for the formation of Brushy Creek WCID.

According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (a major funding source for Lower Brushy Creek WCID), the 23 dams sponsored by Lower Brushy Creek WCID provide over $1.4 million in annual benefits including $113,000 in annual flood control reduction benefits to bridges and numerous county, state and federal roads.

Since citizens have not approved taxing authority for the Lower Brushy Creek WCID, the organization has fulfilled its duties by using funds from federal and state grants. 

At Monday’s meeting of the Milam County Commissioners Court, Assistant Milam County Attorney John Graves Redington explained that the county had been negotiating a “watershed agreement” with Lower Brushy Creek WCID for the last two years. 

There is a 1966 agreement between Milam County and Lower Brushy Creek WCID, but Milam County attorneys do not believe that it is valid for a variety of reasons.

Lower Brushy Creek WCID General Manager Jim Clarno told the commissioners court that Milam County stopped fulfilling its part of the agreement in 1990.

Clarno said that the new agreement on the table would require Lower Brushy Creek WCID to do all of the dam maintenance work while the county would contribute $4,000/year which would be used for matching funds needed for grant applications.

If Milam County does not sign a new agreement, Clarno indicated that Lower Brushyt Creek WCID would consider de-annexing Milam County which would make Milam County responsible for the maintenance and operation of the one WCID dam in Milam County.

The only Milam County dam that is operated and maintained by Lower Brushy Creek WCID is Dam 24. Dam 24 was built in 1960 and is located about three miles south of Thorndale. Its maximum height is 37 feet, it is 1,800 feet long, and it can store 565 million gallons of water. Although the land is privately owned, all of the improvements associated with the dam are owned by the WCID.

On Monday, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jeff Muegge requested the commissioners court to postpone any decision about the new agreement until he and Clarno met with the family who owned the land on which Dam 24 is located. That meeting is scheduled for next week.

On Tuesday, the Lower Brushy Creek WCID directors also postponed a decision to de-annex Milam County.

It appears that Lower Brushy Creek WCID will base their decision about whether or not to deannex Milam County on the commissioners court’s decision about the proposed new agreement. The WCID’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27.