An Analysis of Texas Waterways

A Report on the Physical Characteristics of Rivers, Streams and Bayous in Texas

Published: 09/1974


The diversity of waterways in Texas is probably greater than that of any other state. The State's immensity and wide range of landforms contribute to the variety of experience that can be gained from its more than 80,000 miles of waterway. East Texas rivers, characterized by jungle-like climate, pine-covered banks, and slow-moving currents, often provide a serene recreational experience. In comparison, Central Texas rivers and streams have steeper gradients, are cut through hilly terrain, and often have stretches of white water. These waterways offer a more exciting type of recreational experience for the adventurous. Finally, the rivers in West Texas traverse extremely arid country with high bluffs and great canyons often providing true "wilderness" experience.

The utilization of Texas waterways for recreational purposes is increasing yearly. With demands for remote type of recreational experience growing at a rapid rate, opportunities for "escape", such as those experienced when floating a river, stream, or bayou, are becoming increasingly desirable.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department was charged by the 62nd Legislature to conduct a study of Texas waterways in order to determine the feasibility of establishing a statewide system of waterways. The information presented in the publication was acquired as a result of on-site inspections and an inventory taken in conjunction with this study.

An attempt has been made to cover all of the rivers, streams, and bayous in the State of Texas that are capable of supporting normal waterway recreational activities, such as canoeing, kayaking, and rafting. Those sections that have the greatest potential for providing and sustaining an enjoyable waterway experience have been mapped. Also included is supplemental information concerning secondary waterways; that is, waterways which are more restrictive to normal usage because of variation of flow, lack of access, and short length.

For organizational purposes, this publication has been arranged in three parts, roughly dividing the State into thirds. Each third attempts to cover all of the significant streams, rivers, and bayous in that area. Most of the waterways analyzed are presented in sections of approximately 35 miles in length (a normal two-to-three day float trip). However, fluctuating water conditions may cause the length of time required to travel a particular section to vary.

General Comments on Waterway Use

The Texas rivers and streams containing "white water" are largely confined to relatively few waterways of the central and the western portions of the State. The majority of Texas rivers examined for this publication are suitable for even the most inexperienced waterway recreationist. However, variations in rainfall can cause drastic changes in the nature of a river with shallow, slow-flowing streams becoming raging torrents in a relatively short time.

In Texas, only two percent of the lands remain in public ownership. This study indicates that, of the total publicly-owned land area remaining, approximately one-fifth is riverbed acreage. Most of the legally navigable watercourses are public property. Notably, the shorelines are usually privately owned and the laws concerning the public's right to use the banks are very ambiguous. Public policy has historically held that if a stream is considered to have a state-owned streambed, a recreationist who steps out of a navigable river onto the bank above the midpoint of the high and low water line (which is often very difficult to identify) may be guilty of trespass.

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