This article was researched and written by a student at Texas Tech University participating in the Encyclopedia of Earth's (EoE) Student Science Communication Project. The project encourages students in undergraduate and graduate programs to write about timely scientific issues under close faculty guidance. All articles have been reviewed by internal EoE editors, and by independent experts on each topic.
There are 3,700 named streams and 14 major rivers that meander through 191,000 miles (mi) of Texas landscape. These important aquatic ecosystems play a major role in protecting water quality, preventing erosion, and providing nutrients and habitat for fish and wildlife. Along the way, water that eventually flows into seven major estuaries supports over 212 reservoirs, countless riparian habitats, wetlands, and terrestrial areas. Each year Texas rivers and streams provide recreational opportunities to millions of Texans and visitors from all around the world.
The 14 major Texas rivers are the: Canadian, Red, Brazos, Sulphur, Trinity, Sabine, Neches, San Jacinto, Guadalupe, Lavaca, San Antonio, Colorado, Nueces, and the Rio Grande. These major rivers form a series of 13 major river basins, which consist of the Brazos, Canadian, Colorado, Guadalupe, Lavaca, Neches, Nueces, Red, Rio Grande, Sabine, and Trinity river basins.
The Brazos River is the 11th longest river in the United States with headwaters in Curry County, New Mexico. Its main tributaries are the Clear Fork of the Brazos, which passes by Abilene and joins the main river near Graham at the Bosque, the Little River; Yegua Creek; and the Navasota River. The river is dammed in three places forming Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury, and Lake Whitney. It empties into the Gulf of Mexico just south of Freeport.
The Canadian River is located in northern New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma, USA and flows into the Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma. Its approximate length is 1,459 kilometers (km) (906 mi). Its headwaters are located east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colfax County, New Mexico, formed by headstreams flowing from Colorado. The river flows south-southeast into the dam-created Conchas Reservoir, then east into the Texas Panhandle. There it winds east-northeast through Lake Meredith and into Oklahoma, where it continues east. Along the way it flows through southwestern Oklahoma City into dam-created Eufaula Lake, near the city of Eufaula where it is joined by the North Canadian River (also known as the Beaver River). It then continues east-northeast to join the Arkansas River, 40 km (25 mi) southeast of Muskogee. This river is an important irrigation source for the Texas Panhandle and throughout central Oklahoma.
The Colorado River is the largest river that is completely in Texas. It rises in northeastern Dawson County and flows southeastward for 600 mi before emptying into Matagorda Bay. South of Austin, it forms an important agricultural area. Although the Colorado has a relatively small annual run-off with relation to its watershed, this River has presented some of the most serious drainage problems in Texas.
The Guadalupe River originates in the upper Texas Hill Country in Kerr County near Kerrville, Texas. The upper region is a smaller, faster stream with limestone banks. East of Boerne, the river flows through Guadalupe River State Park where it joins the lower Guadalupe at Canyon Lake, near New Braunfels. The lower portion of the river empties into the San Antonio River at San Antonio Bay just before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The river serves as a popular tourist destination, especially in the Texas Hill Country, near Comal County.
The Lavaca River starts in northeastern Gonzales County and empties into Lavaca Bay in Calhoun County. Vegetation along the Lavaca River consists of scattered oak, willow, and hackberry mottes that provide cover for small game and upland birds. It is an important source of water for ranching and farming.
The Neches River rises just east of Colfax in eastern Van Zandt County and flows southeast for 416 mi to its mouth on Sabine Lake, on the northeastern edge of Port Arthur.
The Nueces River rises in two forks in north central Edwards County and northwestern Real County (at 29°56' N, 100°00' W) and follows a southerly and southeasterly course of 315 mi to its mouth on Nueces Bay. Its major tributary, the combined Frio and Atascosa Rivers, joins the Nueces near Three Rivers, Live Oak County.
The Red River forms from two forks in the Texas Panhandle and serves as the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma before turning south and flowing through a small portion of Arkansas into Louisiana emptying into the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. The southern fork is generally called the Prairie Dog Town Fork and is formed near Canyon, Texas. It flows through Palo Duro Canyon and Palo Duro State Park before meeting the Oklahoma border and serving as a Texas-Oklahoma boundary.
Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande River originates in the Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains. It cuts through the middle of New Mexico and forms (due to the Treaty of Hidalgo) the Texas-Mexico International border at El Paso/Ciudad Juarez. It empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It is the 22nd largest river in the world. Though the length from its headwaters in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico varies as its course changes, in the late 1980s, according to the International Boundary and Water Commission, its total length was 1,896 miles. A 191.2-mile strip of the American bank called Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River begins in Big Bend National Park and runs downstream to the Terrell-Val Verde county line. In the Big Bend National Park, the Rio Grande cuts through Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas Canyons. All along the border, and especially in the lower Rio Grande valley, bancos have been a serious problem. These wide, usually brushy curves shaped like horseshoes or oxbows have frequently overflowed and formed new channels.
The Sabine River is formed by three main branches: the Cowleech Fork, the Caddo Fork, and the South Fork. A fourth branch known as the Lake Fork of the Sabine or Lake Fork Creek, joins the main stream 40 mi downstream from the junction of the other three branches at Lake Tawakoni. In the southeastern corner of Panola County the Sabine becomes the state boundary between Texas and Louisiana. The river empties into Sabine Lake, which is formed by the confluence of the Neches and the Sabine Rivers; the lake is drained by Sabine Pass to the Gulf of Mexico.
San Antonio River
The San Antonio River forms in central Texas and flows through south central Texas before emptying into San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. Along its 240-mile long course it flows through Bexar, Goliad, Karnes, Refugio, and Wilson counties. The San Antonio River forms an integral part of the world famous San Antonio Riverwalk.
San Jacinto River
The San Jacinto River rises at the San Jacinto Dam on the southern rim of Lake Houston in northeastern Harris County and flows southeast for 28 miles to its mouth on Galveston Bay east of Houston. Both Lake Houston, a 12,000 acre-feet municipal reservoir, and the river below it are formed by the confluence of the 69-mile-long East Fork and the 90-mile-long West Fork of the San Jacinto Rivers.
The Sulphur River rises in Delta County, Texas and flows through northeastern Texas entering into Lake Texarkana and continues eastward after leaving Lake Texarkana at its dam. From here it flows into Arkansas where it eventually empties into the Red River.
The Trinity River is formed by three principal branches: the East Fork, the Elm Fork, and the West Fork. Its fourth, smaller headstream is known as the Clear Fork. The river flows from north central Texas, near Dallas, southeastward where it empties into Trinity Bay just west of Anahuac, Texas.