About The Texas Colorado River
For more than 12,000 years, human habitants have continuously occupied the Colorado River Valley persevering against the river’s extremes. Early settlers faced severe droughts that could reduce the Colorado to a trickle and flash floods that, without warning, could turn the river into a raging torrent. With the same fortitude as those early pioneers, later generations eventually harnessed the power of the river to meet the diverse needs of the rapidly growing population.
The River’s waters traverse the State of Texas for more than 900 miles, beginning near the Texas-New Mexico border and emptying into the Gulf of Mexico near Matagorda Bay. Most of the River’s flow gushes from the native limestone through hundreds of natural springs on the South Llano River, and the more renowned Barton Springs in Austin.
The quest for territory in the new world in the sixteenth century brought several Spanish and French explorers to the Colorado River. Among them were Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, who in 1528 found himself shipwrecked on the Gulf Coast, and Rene-Robert-Cavelier, Sier de la Salle. La Salle intended to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi, but instead landed in Matagorda Bay near the outlet of the Colorado River in 1685. The River became known as the Colorado (which means “red”) when a seventeenth century Spanish mapmaker mistakenly switched the names of the Colorado and the clay-tinted Brazos River.
After a major flood in July 1869 that crested to 43 feet in Austin and caused major damage all the way to the Gulf Coast, the first serious plans began to tame the Colorado River. In 1890, voters approved a $1.4 million bond for construction of a dam that was completed in 1892. Though the structure was 1,235 feet long, 60 feet high, 50 feet wide at the base and 16 feet wide at the top, some of the city’s consultants had doubts the dam could withstand the force of the Colorado at flood stage. As the experts predicted, the dam failed during the flood of 1900. The city attempted to rebuild the dam, but those efforts were destroyed in the floods of 1915.
In 1934, former State Senator Alvin J. Wirtz was instrumental in the passage of a bill creating the LCRA. The LCRA was chartered to develop and conserve Colorado River waters and to provide flood control and hydroelectric services in the counties of San Saba, Burnet, Llano, Blanco, Travis, Bastrop, Fayette, Colorado, Wharton, and Matagorda. In 1935, Senator Wirtz was able to obtain $20 million in loans from the U.S. Public Works Administration for the LCRA to construct a series of dams on the Colorado.
Today, the Colorado River system supports a vast array of users by providing a reliable water source for municipal needs, industrial manufacturing, agricultural irrigation and livestock, aquatic recreation, and nature sanctuaries that draw thousands of eco-tourists to Texas each year. Source: Born of the River, Turk Pipkin, 1995