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Still Standing After All These Years:

The Saga of the Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District Dams

  • 19 April 2018
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 5266

The farmers and ranchers of Williamson County, which was largely rural, were tired of the flooding and erosion. They submitted signed petitions to both the Williamson County and Milam County Commissioners Courts to approve a Water Control and Improvement District that would own and operate the proposed dams. 

Both Commissioners Courts approved the petitions and passed resolutions to create a WCID. The Texas Board of Water Engineers then approved the petitions, resolutions and the Taylor Soil and Water Conservation Board #513, as the local sponsor for the district.

Five directors were initially appointed to run the WCID by the Taylor Board, which also determined that $145,000 was needed to acquire easements for the dams and reservoirs. The WCID held an election for five directors and approval of a six cents per $100 property tax. The voters within the proposed District approved both, making the Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District a reality.

Between 1957 and 1976, 44 dams and reservoirs were constructed from Leander to Western Milam County. These were all earthen dams in rural locations, and all were designed to capture between 9-16 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period.  This area is prone to excessive rains like the 19.65 inches of rain western Taylor received in 2015 within 12 hours, so the dam system cannot eliminate all flooding in our region, but greatly reduces floods and erosion.

Across the nation, the Conservation Service program built 12,000 dams, with 2,000 of them in Texas. Oklahoma topped us with 2,050.

In the 1970s, the tax was repealed as the 44 dams were in stable condition.  Later two more dams were added east of Leander, and in 1980, Lake Granger was created, mitigating flooding by the San Gabriel River (not in BCWCID).

By 2000, the population of Williamson County had grown to 250,000 from approximately 37,000 in 1955. This growth was largely concentrated in the southwestern part of the county and Georgetown. This density of population and new businesses forced the dams in that area to be declared a high hazard, meaning that a breach of any of these dams will probably lead to severe economic and infrastructure damage and loss of life. 

The BCWCID now owned many high hazard dams that required upgrades to provide safety but lacked the revenue to perform the work. Eighteen of those dams were deemed inadequate to capture the water under maximum flood levels. The BCWCID estimated $18 million was needed to upgrade those dams.

They held an inexpensive election in 2000 run by their lawyer, who was a judge in Taylor. The election consisted of four paper ballot boxes located in Thorndale, Taylor, Round Rock and Cedar Park. They sought to re-instate a tax at only .016 cents per $100 of assessed value. The voters in eastern Wilco and western Milam counties overwhelmingly said no to a tax, probably because the dams are largely out of sight. In the east, only two dams (in Coupland and eastern Thorndale) were designated as high hazard.

In 2001, the BCWCID held “round two” election, this time run by the Williamson County Elections Office and combined with the November Texas constitutional amendment ballot. Instead of asking for tax money, they asked for a divorce: division of the BCWCID into an Upper and Lower WCID. The voters approved.

In 2002, each WCID had only $100,000 and 23 dams. The Upper Brushy Creek WCID again held an election that year, during the May municipal elections, with a request to tax the residents two cents per $100 of assessed value, and the western citizens approved it.

They understood many of their neighborhoods, businesses and major roads were in the inundation path should the dams be breached. UBCWCID now had long-term funding for their dam system.

The Lower Brushy Creek WCID is now the owner/operator of 23 dams in an area with a very low tax base. No one seems interested in paying for maintenance, repairs and upgrades for dams they can’t even see.

While UBCWCID is planning to add an additional dam to provide protection to the Round Rock West neighborhood, LBCWCID continues seeking grants and local funding to keep their dams functioning. Its future is tenuous. Sustaining these dams requires a partnership between the citizens and the state.

The Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers gives Texas a D for both dams and flood control. What grade would you get for support of the WCIDs?

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