A map of the Colorado River basin in the heart of Texas. Siglo Group image
This story is part of a series on water issues in the Highland Lakes. The series kicked off in the August 2022 issue of The Picayune Magazine. For an up-to-date list, visit the Troubled Waters webpage.
One of the most flood-prone rivers in the state of Texas, the Colorado River has been tamed with a series of dams that hold back its mostly spring-fed waters for drinking, recreation, and irrigation — in times of plenty and in times of drought.
Its dams brought electricity to Hill Country farmers and ranchers and a vibrant tourism industry to what became known as the Highland Lakes.
The Colorado River’s history reaches back to when only Native Americans fed and drank from its waters. Later, in the 1600s, French and Spanish explorers used it to draw boundaries and establish missions and, somewhere along the line, misnamed it.
Fast-flowing river facts
Texas’ Colorado River is the largest river wholly within state boundaries.
Its basin covers 15 percent of the Lone Star State.
The drainage area is 39,900 square-miles, starting in the northwestern part of the state in Dawson County and traveling southeast for more than 860 miles to Matagorda Bay on the Gulf Coast.
It includes 7,500 miles of creeks, streams, and rivers.
Its waters are regulated by the Lower, Central, and Upper Colorado River authorities, three separate entities established by the Texas Legislature.
Colorado River names through history
Native American names include Kanahatino and Pashohono.