Chemical quality of surface waters in the Brazos River basin in Texas

Water Supply Paper 1779-K




The Brazos River basin, which makes up 15 percent of the land area of Texas, extends from the High Plains, where altitudes reach 4,200 feet and the average precipitation ranges from 15 to 20 inches a year, to the Gulf of Mexico where the annual rainfall is 45-^50 inches. Large reservoirs have been built in the Brazos River basin, but the use of the stored water has been limited because the salinity often makes the water undesirable for municipal and industrial use. However, the water is generally satisfactory for irrigation. Records for the Brazos River show that the salinity of the water was a problem even as early as 1906 and that the water more often than not failed to meet today's chemical-quality standards for a municipal supply.

The salt load of the Brazos River comes from the entire basin and is the result of solution, accretion of undetermined amounts of oil-field brine, and accretion of brine from springs and seeps such as those in Salt Croton Creek which contribute about 400 tons of chloride a day.

Much of the salinity of the Brazos River is due to inflow of brines above Possum Kingdom Dam. The area above Possum Kingdom Dam is about 52 percent of the total area in the Brazos River basin but contributes only about 17 percent of the total runoff; however, about 50 percent of the annual salt load comes from this part of the basin.

Quality-of-water records show a wide difference in the salinity of the steams in different parts of the basin, Dissolved-solids concentrations ranged from about 100 ppm (parts per million) for flood water to 300,000 ppm for saturated brines from springs.

The quality of the surface water in the Brazos River basin is discussed by areas and by stream reaches. This study indicates that the water of the Salt Fork Brazos River is too saline for most uses. The water of the Double Mountain Fork Brazos River is less saline and might be used for irrigation; however, it probably could not be used as a municipal supply or as a supply for most industries. The water of the dear Fork Brazos River is generally good but is adversely affected by brine pollution. Chemical-quality records for the Lampasas, Leon, and Navasota Rivers indicate that the water of these streams is of excellent quality; however, more data are needed to determine variations. The quality of the water in other tributaries could only be inferred from the results of miscellaneous sampling and from the probable effect of the underlying rocks. The weighted-average concentration of constituents in the Brazos River at Richmond indicated that inflow below Whitney Reservoir has a dilution effect on the river. For 12 of the 14 years of record, the weighted-average dissolved-solids concentration of the Brazos River at Richmond was lessi than, the 500 ppm maximum limit recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service (1961).

This study indicates that water stored in Possum Kingdom and Whitney Reservoirs tends to become stratified, with the more saline water being at the greater depths. Samples collected in 1956 at Whitney Reservoir showed that the chloride concentration at the bottom was almost twice that at the surface. After a flood in June 1957, the dissolved-solids concentrations of bottom releases at Possum Kingdom were almost double those of surface releases through the spillway even though the flood volume had been more than twice the capacity of the reservoir.

The quality of water in the lower main stem can be improved by control and disposal of brines in the upper basin. Also, the maximum concentrations in the water of the lower main stem can be lowered by dilution with water stored in reservoirs on tributaries that yield water of good quality.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Chemical quality of surface waters in the Brazos River basin in Texas
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Texas Water Science Center
Report: vi, 70 p.; 4 Plates
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