HISTORY OF LAKE BROWNWOOD
Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 is one of the oldest water improvement districts in the State of Texas, having been formed as the result of a 1924 project fathered by the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce. During the years 1925 through 1927, the chamber took legal and engineering steps to build, at the confluence of the Pecan Bayou and Jim Ned Creek, approximately 7 miles northwest of the city, a reservoir.
A permit was necessary from the newly formed State Board of Water Engineers before the water district could impound the waters of Pecan Bayou, a part of the Upper Colorado River Basin. In March of 1927, the newly formed water district filed its application to construct a dam which would impound 500,000 acre feet of water for municipal, industrial and power uses, as well as water to irrigate an estimated 47,895 acres of land in the Pecan Bayou river valley in and around the City of Brownwood.
The filing of the application created an immediate controversy and the State Board of Engineers received protests from practically all downstream water users on the lower Colorado River. A hearing was scheduled on the application for May 31, 1927. It was the small town of Brownwood and its leaders against powerful and influential corporate conglomerates, such as the Syndicate Power Company and rice growers, claiming "prior rights." A spirited hearing in Austin lasted two days without a decision from the Engineers. The hearing was rescheduled for June 22, 1927. Water law was in the making!
The West Texas Chamber of Commerce (WTCC) was formed in 1918 as a regional organization for local chambers of commerce and was, in 1927, a well respected and large organization of which the Brownwood Chamber was a founding and charter member. The WTCC had, in early 1927, denounced publicly the "monopolistic acquisition by ... utilities and others of water powers and rights so necessary to the welfare of the people generally." Aware of the difficulties faced by the water district, the WTCC invited the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce to Abilene to discuss the situation. After consultation, the WTCC passed a resolution supporting the application of the water district and pledged all its influence with the State Board of Engineers to aid communities which seek water grants in the western part of the state. At a subsequent meeting in early June of 1927, the WTCC passed a further resolution opposing the dedication of water for the development of hydroelectric power at the expense of the agricultural and domestic interests of the State, and urged the Board of Water Engineers to grant the Brown County District application.
At the Board of Water Engineers meeting on June 22, 1927, the WTCC appeared as vocal supporter of the application and read its resolutions into the record over the protests of the rice irrigation companies and others. The Board of Water Engineers postponed its decision for another two months. During these two months a public relations campaign was launched by the Brown County District and the WTCC involving state and national political leaders and numerous communities all in support of the Brown County application. The effort intensified until finally, on September 1, 1927, the Board of Water Engineers granted to the water district a permit to build a reservoir with a capacity of 125,000 acre feet of water, rather than the 500,000 acre feet requested. After study and thought, the Brown County Water Improvement District agreed to the proposed permit of 125,000 acre feet and all appeals were dropped. The "up-stream" interests had prevailed and this set the stage for further and other applications by other communities in all parts of the state.
Construction commenced and the dam was completed in early 1932. Skeptics predicted it would be years before it would fill with water. In July of the same year, a record-breaking flood swept down the Pecan Bayou and the lake filled practically overnight! The lake waters covered approximately 7,200 acres of land acquired by the water district by purchase or by condemnation between 1926 and 1930. The cost of the structure was financed by water bonds paid by real property taxes assessed against real property located within the water district which, at that time, was composed of most of the lands with the town of Brownwood and lying now within the confines of the City of Early. The lake proper is now within the district area but remains the property of the water district and is controlled and managed by the water district. Water from the lake was originally transported to the irrigators and municipal users by an open concrete-lined gravity flow canal approximately 10 feet in width and 6 feet deep coursing a distance of approximately 7 miles to the filtration plant on the West side of the City of Brownwood. Later this open canal was replaced with a buried pipeline.
In 1984 the height of the Lake Brownwood Dam was increased from 1450 feet to 1470 feet and the mass of the dam was increased by two-thirds making the structure significantly stronger and increasing the "freeboard" by 20 feet to provide even more protection to the downstream cities from flooding. The structure was further modified to allow discharge of water from the reservoir through two 42 inch pipes; one into the pipeline serving the irrigators and municipal users and the other into the downstream Pecan Bayou. Conceived in the 1920's, survivors of the Great Depression, the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 and Lake Brownwood are examples of perseverance, tenacity and vision by the leaders of this central Texas Community. ( William W. Bell, General Counsel to BCWID #1 )