On Friday, May 31, 1889, the Little Conemaugh River flooded and burst through the South Fork Dam which flooded Jonestown, Pa. That catastrophic failure killed 2,209 people and caused $17 million in damage (about $500 million in 2020 dollars) and, over time, led to the creation of federal programs designed to prevent similar disasters in rural America.
Among other things, the NRCS was tasked to work with state and local governments to provide watershed programs through funding and resources for watershed protection, flood mitigation, water quality improvement, soil erosion reduction, irrigation, sediment control, fish and wildlife enhancement, wetland and wetland function creation and restoration, groundwater recharge, easements, wetland and floodplain conservation easements, hydropower, watershed dam rehabilitation.
By 1957, those programs came to fruition in Williamson and Milam counties in the form of the Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District.
That year, the State of Texas passed legislation that created the district for purpose of “providing dams, structures, projects, and works of improvement for flood prevention, the conservation and development of water, and for other necessary plants, facilities, and equipment in connection therewith …”
Over the next 15 years, the USDA built 46 floodwater structures — earthen dams scattered across both counties — and, by 1976, had transferred them to the original WCID for operation and maintenance.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Texas tightened its dam safety regulations to adhere to the US Army Corps of Engineer’s criteria, which required high-hazard dams to safely pass 100% of Probable Maximum Flood metrics. By 1999, 19 of the original WCID’s dams had been declared high hazard requiring over $90 million in rehabilitation.
In 2001, Williamson and Milam county voters approved splitting the original WCID into two new districts now known as the Upper Brushy Creek WCID, which comprised much of what is now Leander, Cedar Park and Georgetown, and the Lower Brushy Creek WCID.
Each district retained control of 23 dams but 17 of the high-hazard dams were located within the rapidly urbanizing Upper Brushy Creek WCID.
Since the division, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has reclassified all of the dams in the Upper Brushy Creek WCID as high hazard.
Over the last 10 years, the TCEQ declared 14 of the 23 dams of the Lower Brushy Creek WCID significant or high-hazard.
This reclassification will likely continue until all 23 are reclassified.
To meet this issue, the district’s directors were required to develop Emergency Action Plans in coordination with Williamson County and local fire departments.
The City of Taylor, the City of Thrall and the Lower Brushy Creek WCID have completed a multi-jurisdictional Local Hazard Mitigation Plan that identified potential hazards, including flooding and dam breach, as well as possible mitigation projects.
In November, 2018, Lower Brushy Creek WCID voters approved a 2-cent per $100 valuation maintenance tax to help the district meet its state-mandated obligations to maintain and improve the dams within its boundaries.
History of the Lower Brushy Creek WCID
The purpose of the original Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, as outlined in House Bill No. 53 1, Chapter 341,55th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature in 1957, follows:
“Sec. 6. For the purpose of providing dams, structures, projects, and works of improvement for flood prevention, the conservation and development of water, and for other necessary plants, facilities, and equipment in connection therewith….
Sec. 7. The fact that the State as a whole has a vital interest in the conservation of its waters, that said District should proceed as quickly as possible with its water program so the waters of the State can be preserved, ….”
The bill unanimously passed the House on April 4, 1957, unanimously passed the Senate on May 14 1957, was approved and became effective on May 3 1,1957. The purpose adopted by the original WCID was subsequently retained by each new district after the original district was divided in the November 2001 general election.
When the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality classifies a dam as “high hazard,” that doesn’t mean that the dam is in any way at risk of collapsing.
What it means is that there is significant infrastructure down stream, like roads, bridges or private property, that these dams help to protect.
The higher the “hazard” level, the more infrastructure there is downstream for the dam to protect.
History of the Lower Brushy Creek WCID
1954 – Congress approved the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act (PL 83-566) for USDA to provide technical and financial assistance to local groups willing to carryout upstream watershed conservation and flood control projects.
1955 – USDA completed evaluation of the Brushy Creek Watershed and recommended a series of flood control structures and other improvements to manage future flooding in Williamson and Milam Counties.
1957 – In response to a petition, Williamson and Milam County Commissioners Courts, the Texas Legislature and the voters approved the creation of the original Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 of Williamson and Milam Counties (original WCID).
1958 – the USDA, Taylor Soil and Water Conservation District and the original WCID entered into agreements to design, construct, operate and maintain a series flood control structures (earthen dams).
1960s and 1970s
By 1976, USDA had completed construction of 46 floodwater retarding structures and transfers them to the original WCID for operation and maintenance.
1972 – Congress passed the Dam Inspection Act directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review all federal and state dam safety programs and regulations and to inspect all high-hazard dams.
1980’s and 1990’s 1986 – Texas tightened its dam safety regulations to adhere to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ criteria requiring high-hazard dams to safely pass 100% of the Probable Maximum Flood.
By 1999, 19 of the original WCID’s dams had been declared high hazard requiring over $90 million in rehabilitation.
2001 – voters of Williamson and Milam Counties approved splitting the original WCID into two new districts now known as the Upper Brushy Creek WCID and the Lower Brushy Creek WCID each with 23 dams. 17 of the high-hazard dams were located within the Upper Brushy Creek WCID and 2 high hazard dams were in Lower Brushy Creek WCID (LBC WCID).
2009 – The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) published updated dam safety rules.
2009 – the Texas Legislature created the Flood Control Grant Program managed by the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. The program provides grants to local sponsors, such as the LBC WCID, for maintenance and structural repairs to its dams. 2
009 – USDA identified three dams with major slides for repair using stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The repairs to Sites 4A, 8 and 29 were completed in 2010 at a cost of $2.9 million.
2015 – Memorial Day floods caused damage to two dams located north of Thrall. The LBC WCID received USDA Emergency Watershed Protection and State Flood Control Grants to make the repairs. The repairs to Sites 2 and 7 were completed in 2017 at a cost of $0.95 million.
2016 – The LBC WCID received state and federal grant funding to rehabilitate Site 32 to meet TCEQ high-hazard design criteria. The construction was completed in 2018 at a cost of $1.67 million. By 2018, 11 of the 23 dams of the LBC WCID had been declared significant or high-hazard requiring Emergency Action Plans be developed for TCEQ, Williamson County and local fire departments.
2018 – The City of Taylor, the City of Thrall and the LBC WCID completed a multi-jurisdictional Local Hazard Mitigation Plan to identify potential hazards, including flooding and dam breach, as well as possible mitigation projects.
2018 – The LBC WCID received state and federal grant funding to rehabilitate Site 20 to meet TCEQ high-hazard design criteria. The construction was started in the spring of 2019 and is currently expected to be completed in May 2020 at a cost of $1.73 million.
2018 – The voters approved a 2-cent per $100 assessed valuation maintenance tax within the LBC WCID beginning in the fall of 2019.
2019 – The Texas State Legislature approved $150 million for state grant funding to make repairs to USDA constructed dams in Texas. Sites 12 and 22 are scheduled for repairs with construction tentatively beginning in 2020. Site 18 is schedule from rehabilitation to meet TCEQ high-hazard design criteria with construction tentatively beginning in 2021.