This fact sheet presents the 1996–97 stream monitoring and outreach activities of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Red River Authority of Texas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Wichita Falls, the Wichita County Water Improvement District No. 2, and the Texas Water Development Board. The fact sheet was prepared by the USGS in cooperation with the Red River Authority of Texas.

The Red River Basin comprises parts of five states: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The basin covers about 94,500 square miles, of which approximately 24,500 square miles are in Texas (fig. 1). The river flows from eastern New Mexico, across the Texas Panhandle, and becomes the Texas-Oklahoma boundary. It then flows through southwestern Arkansas and into Louisiana, where it joins the Atchafalaya River.

The land-surface features of the Red River Basin in Texas vary from the nearly level prairie and farmland west of Amarillo, to rugged canyons and ridges east of Amarillo, to rolling plains and prairie in the Wichita Falls area and, finally, to the gently rolling, wooded hills in northeast Texas. Rainfall increases appreciably across the basin from an average of about 15 inches near the Texas-New Mexico border to about 48 inches near the Texas-Arkansas border. Four major reservoirs with impoundment capacities greater than 200,000 acre-feet are in the basin (fig. 1): Lake Kemp, Lake Kickapoo, Lake Arrowhead, and Lake Texoma.

Amarillo is the largest city in the Texas part of the basin, with an estimated 1997 population of about 174,000 (Texas A&M University, 1997). Wichita Falls is the second largest, with an estimated 1997 population of about 102,000. The next largest Texas cities—Burkburnett, Canyon, Denison, Hereford, Paris, Sherman, and Vernon—all have estimated 1997 populations in the 10,000-to-40,000 range. The major industries in the region are oil and gas production, agriculture, ranching, manufacturing, and tourism.

Several tributaries to the Red River appear fairly turbid and generally have visible suspended-sediment concentrations during low flow, as can be seen at the stream-monitoring station Wichita River near Charlie, Tex. (photo A). Water in the mainstem of the Red River reflects the River’s namesake (photo B). During low flow the Red River appears fairly turbid, as can be seen at the stream-monitoring station Red River near Burkburnett, Tex. (photo B).

Salinity is the greatest limitation on water use in the Red River Basin and is largely the result of naturally occurring salt springs in parts of the upper reaches of the basin (Keller and others, 1988). The salt sources contribute water with large (relative to potable water) concentrations of dissolved solids, principally chloride. At certain times and locations, the salinity of streams in the basin exceeds that of seawater (Keller and others, 1988).

In 1957, when Congress directed the improvement of water quality in the Red River Basin, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began studying the problem of salt removal from 10 salt-spring areas in the Red River Basin. Eight of these source areas were selected by the Corps of Engineers to have structural controls installed to reduce salt loads reaching the mainstem of the Red River (Keller and others, 1988) (fig. 2).

The Water Resources Development Act of 1974 provided funding for the construction of water-control structures in Area VIII in the Wichita River Basin. A water-control structure in Area VIII on the South Wichita River (photo C) creates a pool behind an inflatable dam during low flow, which is the most saline. Water from the pool is pumped by way of the Bateman pump station through a 23-mile pipeline north to Truscott Brine Lake, where the water evaporates (Keller and others, 1988). Construction of Bateman pump station and Truscott Brine Lake began in 1976, and the diversion of low flow began in May 1987. The Corps of Engineers also has completed the chloride control structure for Area V, Estelline Springs (Keller and others, 1988).

Stream Monitoring

The Red River Basin in Texas has been intensely monitored with two-parameter (specific conductance and temperature) water-quality monitors and streamflow-gaging stations (fig. 1; table 1). Water-quality samples for inorganic constituents, nutrients, trace elements, and pesticide analyses are being collected at all two-parameter monitor sites.

Basinwide Monitoring Plan

The Clean Waters Act of 1991 (Texas Senate Bill 818) directed the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) to assess and manage the water quality of Texas surface water and generate a biennial comprehensive assessment of all river basins in Texas. The program implementing the act is called the Clean Rivers Program. Subsequently, the TNRCC contracted with planning agencies of the State to perform the necessary assessment and monitoring for each river basin. The Red River Authority of Texas is the planning agency contracted to perform these duties for the Red River Basin. The USGS is cooperating with the Red River Authority to collect and interpret streamflow and water-quality data.

The basin was divided into five reaches (fig. 1) for the purpose of designing an efficient sampling plan within the limited budget available. The reaches are ranked so that monitoring can be scheduled according to Clean Rivers Program priorities. Each reach was ranked on the basis of the combined ranking of the segments in the reach (segments were ranked in accordance with the TNRCC procedure (Brazos River Authority, written commun., 1995)), the total number of domestic and industrial discharges in the reach, and the total volume of effluent discharged in the reach. The schedule for focused monitoring (high-intensity sampling during 1 of the 5 years and low-intensity sampling during the other 4 years) reflects the ranking of the five reaches:

Year 1 (fiscal years 1996–97)—Reach 2 Wichita River Basin

Year 2 (fiscal years 1997–98)—Reach 1 Lower Red River (mainstem) Basin

Year 3 (fiscal years 1998–99)—Reach 4 Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River Basin

Year 4 (fiscal years 1999–2000)—Reach 3 Pease River Basin

Year 5 (fiscal years 2000–2001)—Reach 5 North Fork and Salt Fork of the Red River Basins

The monitoring plan for the reaches in the Red River Basin includes the computation of salt loading for the major tributaries to identify sources of salinity and to determine to what extent these sources contribute to the elevated dissolved solids concentrations. In addition, biological sampling will be done during the high-intensity sampling in each reach during the 5-year cycle of the basinwide monitoring plan, which allows for biological assessment across the entire basin. The assessment results can be related to the chemical and physical characteristics of each reach and also can be used to characterize a “generic” reference site for comparison to the results of future sampling.

Wichita River Basin

Between June 1996 and September 1997, streamflow and water-quality monitoring in Reach 2 (fig. 3) of the Wichita River Basin were emphasized. Water quality in the Wichita River watershed is characterized by high salinity for much of the surface and ground water. A major effort of the monitoring program (table 2) is directed toward recording and computing salt loads at selected gaging stations in the Wichita River Basin.

Additional monitoring is being directed toward investigating eutrophication and high bacteria levels. The water quality of the waterways in the Wichita River Basin is being assessed and compared, and a data base of biological information is being established for future reference. Bacteria monitoring is intended to determine whether the bacteria criteria of the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards (Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, 1995) are being achieved.

Lower Red River (Mainstem) Basin

In 1997, streamflow and water-quality monitoring in Reach 1 of the Red River Basin were emphasized (fig. 4). Dissolved oxygen, dissolved solids, nutrients, trace elements, and pesticides (table 3) are being monitored in this reach. As in the Wichita River Basin, indicators of eutrophication and high bacteria levels are being investigated, the water quality of the waterways in the Lower Red River is being assessed, and a data base of biological information is being established for future reference. Both fish and nekton (free-swimming, aquatic animals) are being sampled at eight sites within this reach.

Additionally, sampling for TNRCC-permitted pollutants is planned for two sites. The permitted pollutants comprise a list of chemical compounds and trace elements, including chlorinated pesticides, organophosphorus pesticides, volatile organic compounds, and herbicides.

Educational Program—The Texas Rivers Project

In addition to water-resource monitoring, another major work effort is underway in the Wichita River Basin. It is an educational program for elementary, middle school, and high school students known as the Texas Rivers Project. The Texas Rivers Project, developed by the Red River Authority of Texas and the River Bend Nature Works in Wichita Falls, offers teachers and students a unique learning experience by enhancing science or biology curricula with the application of environmental monitoring and reporting at a minimal expense to the school district. Texas Rivers Project monitoring consists of monthly visits to a nearby stream site where students can measure specific conductance, pH, temperature, Secchi-disk transparency, and dissolved oxygen, as well as make visual observations of the site (photo D). The data being collected by the students are used by the Red River Authority of Texas to characterize the water quality of sites where very little information exists.

The program offers real-world science, mathematics, and social study as students learn to evaluate the effects of natural and anthropogenic factors on our natural resources. In addition, teachers can become better equipped to help students join society as well-informed, active, and scientifically literate citizens.


Keller, Jack, Rawson, Jack, Grubb, Hubert, Kramer, Jackson, and Sullivan, Glenn, 1988, Report on the evaluation of the effectiveness of operation of area VIII Red River Chloride Control Project: Red River Chloride Control Project Report, 35 p.

Texas A&M University, 1997, Texas population estimates and projections programs.

Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, 1995, Texas surface water quality standards: Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission [variously paged].

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