Brazos River restoration aided by grant to River Systems Institute

By Marc Speir
University News Service
July 17, 2007

The River Systems Institute (RSI) at Texas State University-San Marcos in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy of Texas (NCT) recently received a grant in support of a project aimed to study, protect and restore habitat along the lower Brazos River.

The three-year grant begins at the end of July with an initial $300,000 allocated for the first year, and another $300,000 slated for the following two years. The grant comes from the Houston Endowment, a private philanthropic organization serving the greater Houston area.

“This is the third in a series of collaborative projects with the Nature Conservancy to establish aquatic ecosystems and identify watersheds needed for conservation,” said Andy Sansom, executive director of the River Systems Institute at Texas State. “We’ve also done work on the Blanco and Pedernales Rivers.”

The River Systems Institute is responsible for raising funds that it administers for scientific research through departments at the university.

“That way we can compile the scientific research needed as a basis for the Nature Conservancy to work with landowners,” Sansom said.

The Brazos is different because of its position as both a plains and a coastal river, flowing 840 miles from its aboveground headwaters in the panhandle of Texas to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico .

“The Brazos may be the best example of plains and lowland types of fish in Texas ,” said Tim Bonner, associate professor of biology and director of the aquatic station. “There is a unique river system of fish found there that is nowhere else.”

The Department of Biology at Texas State will use the funds raised by the RSI to support student salaries, equipment and lab analysis that are necessary to study the unique ecosystem of the Brazos . This includes research that can impact proposed reservoirs and growth along the river’s watersheds.

“We’ll be seeing how nutrients are transferred to understand the structure and qualitative function of fish and bugs in the Brazos and its tributaries,” Bonner said. “This allows us to make predictions for the future of the river.”

The Brazos River ’s importance is as a source of water for power, irrigation and recreation. In addition, several major reservoirs tap drinking water from the Brazos and its tributaries.

The study may help determine in-stream flow requirements for Texas rivers, a subject that is currently being evaluated by the Texas Center for Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Water Development Board.

Bonner says that planning for the future of sustainable water resources should be more of a priority.

“Every river I’ve studied has a demand for its water,” Bonner said. “We’re going to see more of a demand as municipalities grow and we need to plan ahead. Look at the Rio Grande --it has stopped flowing.”

Bonner maintains that educating people about the issue and enacting laws to sustain water usage can secure the future of rivers.

“We should do these things before there is a crisis,” Bonner said. “This surplus mentality will have to change.”

The study will conclude in 2010 with recommendations concerning the future of the Brazos .