(Updated September 14, 2015)

The Gulf Coast Water Authority is the provider of Brazos River surface water for industry, agriculture, and municipalities in Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Galveston counties. This is made possible through the Authority’s acquisition over many years of three open channel canal systems with pump stations, various water rights, water contracts, a 57 MGD surface water treatment plant, and an industrial reservoir, canal, & pump station.

The beginnings of the American and Briscoe Canal Systems (A & B Canals) before the Authority existed.

1905 -1940:  The American Canal System began with private investors who established the Cane & Rice Belt Irrigation Company (1905), and from documents on file with the Texas Secretary of State, was sold, transferred or conveyed to the Brazos Valley Irrigation Company (1925) and later to the American Canal Company (1940), and later still the American Canal Company of Texas (1959). They built, over time, the American River Plant Pump Station (now known as the Shannon Plant) on the Brazos River south of Fulshear, connecting Jones Creek to Oyster Creek, and then constructed the American Canal system from Brazos River across Fort Bend and Brazoria counties and eventually to League City (1940) – all for rice and sugar cane irrigation.  They were issued water rights on the Brazos from the State of Texas and held those water rights until the Brazos River Authority purchased the American Canal system in 1966.

1941 – 1940:  The Briscoe Canal System began with private investor Bob Briscoe and the Briscoe Irrigation Company, who built the Briscoe River Plant Pump Station south of Missouri City and the Briscoe canal system; again primarily for rice irrigation in Brazoria County. They were issued water rights on the Brazos from the State of Texas and held those water rights until the Brazos River Authority purchased the Briscoe Canal System in December 1967.

Gulf Coast Water Authority and its predecessors

1946 – 1950:  First known as the Excelsior Corporation, then the Galveston County Water Company, and finally as the Industrial Water Company; these companies were created by some of the refineries and petrochemical industries located in Texas City.  The purpose of the Industrial Water Company (and its predecessors) was to bring surface water into the Texas City area in response to land subsidence.  Subsidence was first identified as a significant problem in 1940 by the Texas City industries, but due to the war effort, no action was taken until 1946. The Industrial Water Company (and its predecessors) built the Texas City Reservoir, the Industrial Pump Station, Industrial Distribution System, and Industrial Canal to serve the Texas City petrochemical and refining complex. They initially purchased water, (not water rights) from the Briscoe Irrigation Company in 1948 and in 1966, from the American Canal Company.

1961:  Monsanto Chocolate Bayou (now Ascend Performance Materials), located in Brazoria County, began purchasing water from the Briscoe Irrigation Company in 1961 and assumed by BRA in 1967.

1965:  Galveston County Water Authority (GCWA) was created by the Texas legislature at the request of the Industrial Water Company.

1966 – 1967: The Brazos River Authority acquired the privately owned Briscoe and American Canal Systems and their associated water rights; continuing to operate as a wholesale water supplier.

1971: GCWA purchased the assets of the Industrial Water Company for $8.6 million.  This purchase did not include any water rights; water rights remained with the Brazos River Authority.  GCWA contracted with AMC Services (American, Monsanto, & Carbide) to provide management services to the Authority to operate the Texas City Industrial Reservoir, Industrial Pump Station, and Industrial Distribution system.  That portion of the canals originally built across Galveston County in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the Industrial Water Company were sold at the same time to the Brazos River Authority.

1971:  GCWA contracted with the City of Houston to deliver up to 30 MGD of water from Houston to the City of Galveston (25 MGD) and the City of League City (5 MGD).  GCWA issued bonds to build the pipeline network to interconnect the three water systems.  That interconnecting line is known as “The Old Galveston Line” or OGL.

1978:  The City of Texas City built an 18 MGD surface water treatment that was later to be named the Thomas Mackey Water Treatment Plant (TMWTP).  The plant is adjacent to the Industrial Canal and is a customer of the Industrial Division.

1981:  GCWA purchased the TMWTP from Texas City and expanded to 25MGD in 1993 to serve a significant portion of the mainland of Galveston County, including LaMarque, Texas City, Dickinson, Bacliff, Bayview, and HL&P power plant in San Leon.

1987:  GCWA purchased 26.5% interest in the City of Houston’s Southeast Water Purification Plant (SEWPP) at Ellington Field to ensure future water supplies for the cities of League City and Galveston. The SEWPP had an initial capacity 80MGD; GCWA’s interest was divided between League City with 6MGD and Galveston with 18.4MGD.

1988:  GCWA purchased all the assets of the A & B Canal System from Brazos River Authority including the 224,932 ac-ft of water rights on the Brazos and 12,000 ac-ft on Oyster Creek; (~$6.0M for American and ~$6.0M for Briscoe).  This was the first purchase of water rights by the Authority and the same water rights remain in the hands of the Authority today.

1999 – 2000:  The Thomas Mackey Water Plant expanded to 50MGD; to serve Galveston, the Hwy 6 communities of Tiki Island (FWSD#6), Bayou Vista (MUD#12), Hitchcock, Santa Fe (WCID#8), and a portion of League City.  Galveston’s interest in the SEWPP plant was sold back to Houston and the co-participants.

1991:  The Texas legislature changed the name of Galveston County Water Authority to the Gulf Coast Water Authority; at the request of the GCWA Board of Directors.

1991:  GCWA extended a 12” water line along Hwy 146 to Kemah to serve WCID#12.

Mid- 1990’s:  GCWA entered into option water contracts to the cities of Sugar Land, Pearland, and Missouri City, as well as Fort Bend WCID#2, (Stafford), and the Pecan Grove MUD.  Those option contracts were converted to firm water supply contracts beginning in 2011 through 2015.

2000:  Houston and the co-participants in the SEWPP expanded the plant from 80MGD to 120MGD. GCWA (League City) now owned 16.5MGD of the plant capacity.

2006:  GCWA purchased its 3rd canal system known as the Juliff/Chocolate Bayou Canal System from the Chocolate Bayou Water Company (a subsidiary of International Paper Company) for ~$27M. Participants sharing in the purchase cost were INEOS, and the cities of Galveston, Texas City, and Pearland.  The purchase included Brazos River water rights. The Juliff Pump Station (now the William May Pump Station) and canal system were constructed by The South Texas Water Company (1934), a whole owned subsidiary of General Crude Oil Company.  In a summary of General Crude Oil Company’s water operations written in 1974, their subsidiary, Chocolate Bayou Land and Water Company operated two separate raw water systems, the South Texas Water Company and the Chocolate Bayou (also known as Houston Farms Development Company) systems. At some later date, the Chocolate Bayou Water Company was sold to the International Paper Company.

2007:  The SEWPP was expanded again, from 120MGD to 200MGD.  GCWA’s customers, League City now has 21.5MGD capacity and Pearland has 10MGD.

2008:  Plans were made to expand the Thomas Mackey Water Treatment Plant by 20MGD, but as the Great Recession hit the nation and Galveston County, the project was scrapped.

2009 and ongoing:  The near Drought of Record descended upon much of Texas and the Brazos River basin was no exception.  At the beginning of this period additional interruptible stored water was made available from the Brazos River Authority to meet the needs of the Authority’s customers without restriction; however, beginning mid-2013… stored water shortages in the BRA reservoir system became increasingly wide-spread causing BRA to stop the sale of interruptible stored water thus forcing GCWA to substantially curtail the sale of water for agriculture use.

2011 and ongoing: GCWA has entered into a multitude of engineering studies to look at alternative water supplies for the purpose of creating a more reliable water supply for its customers.  The results of those studies in 2014 seem to have narrowed the search down to two considerations – development of a 30MGD Reuse Project with the City of Houston at its Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant, and, participation in the development of Allen’s Creek Reservoir, a 100,000 ac-ft yield off-channel reservoir on the Brazos River. The future Allen’s Creek Reservoir is jointly owned by Houston and BRA.

2012 and ongoing.  GCWA has turned its attention to addressing a multitude of aging infrastructure challenges across its entire assets; requiring major capital investments to maintain a redundant and reliable water supply to its customers.

Written by Ivan Langford, General Manager of GCWA (2012-2019), using historical documents and contracts of the Authority as well as the Texas Secretary of State’s database of business filings. This is not intended to be a complete history of the Authority; indeed references to specific individuals who have contributed mightily to the success of GCWA are not included herein. This document routinely updated as additional historical information becomes available.

Recommended further reading, The Waters of the Brazos, A History of the Brazos River Authority, 1929 – 1979, by Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr. 1981, The Texian Press.