History of the Texas Water Science Center

USGS water science presence in Texas began in 1898 with measurements at 08158000 Colorado River at Austin, Texas. The Texas Water Science Center was founded in 1915 as the Texas District in Austin, Texas, and has now grown to nine offices located in Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock, San Angelo, San Antonio, and Wichita Falls.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was established by Congress to provide the Nation with reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life. 

The USGS is a scientific organization directed to provide credible, relevant, impartial, and timely information to cooperators, stakeholders, and the public.  Today, the USGS is known for its long-term and extensive data-collection networks and impartial research of natural-resources issues. These efforts provide policy makers, managers, scientists, and the general public with unbiased information needed to understand and make decisions about natural resources.

Robert Hill, Rio Grande field trip, 1899

Robert Hill, Father of Texas Geology, on Rio Grande field trip, Val Verde County, TX. (Public domain.)

The USGS water presence in Texas began in 1898 with measurements at 08158000 Colorado River at Austin, Texas.   The first systematic geologic studies in Texas occurred about the same time. Robert Thomas (R.T.) Hill, known as the Father of Texas Geology, worked for USGS and published the first compendium of geologic information for Texas in 1887.

Systematic studies by USGS of water resources also began shortly after the agency was formed. As a result of interest in stream measurements in Texas rivers, University of Texas Civil Engineering Professor Thomas Ulvan (T.U.) Taylor was hired in 1898 to be the first USGS resident hydrographer in Texas.  The permanent Texas Water Science Center was founded in 1915 as the Texas District in Austin, Texas.  

The ability to continuously measure streamflow was new in the early history of streamflow data collection in Texas.  One new streamgage in Texas was described: “So strong was public interest in stream gaging that, on the establishment of one station, T.U. Taylor was escorted to the site by a large contingent of citizens (although perhaps lacking the proverbial brass band) who watched with awe the process of measurement.  When told that the meter used was an electric one, their faith in its accuracy was unbounded because the term “electric” signified marvelous qualities.” (A History of the Water Resources Branch, U.S. Geological Survey)  Recent flooding (2015-2017) in Texas indicates that USGS streamgaging activities can still attract significant public interest. 

graphic celebrating 100 years of streamgage records

The Centennial Streamgage marker is displayed online for gages with more than 100 or more years of streamgage records.

Today, Texas Water Science Center operates more than 850 real-time (continuously monitored) sites that include streams, lakes, canals and estuaries, groundwater and extensometer wells, springs, and atmospheric locations. Of the streamflow sites, 20 "centennial" streamgages have operated mostly continuously for more than 100 years.

Although technology has changed much in more than a century, streamflow and other water resources data are needed for many purposes such as: flood forecasts; interstate agreements, compacts, court decrees and other legal obligations; water supply; long-term forecasts; water quality assessments; reservoir operations; infrastructure planning; instream flow requirements; floodplain mapping and planning; tide monitoring and predictions; and recreational purposes. 

The Texas Water Science Center has over 100 years of history serving the people of Texas.   Want to dive deeper into the past?

► Expanded History of the Texas Water Science Center 

 

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Banner image descriptions

  1. 1900 field camp.  USGS field camp during groundwater study in the Southern High Plains, ca 1900.  The city of Claude, TX is visible in the background.
  2. 1924 field vehicle.  Original 1924 caption reads: 'A Texas  summer thunderstorm brewing in the late afternoon. Shows K20 Special USGS 304; the type of roadway then common for travel in much of West Texas; a cattle guard and wire gate shows method used to keep fence taut where heavy king posts are not employed.'
  3. 1941 discharge measurement.  Field technicians taking a cableway discharge measurement in 1941 at USGS 0816100, Colorado River at Columbus. Corrugated metal streamgage shelter in cylindrical cement tower is visible next to the bridge.
  4. 1957 field vehicle.   Wallace D. Robbins, Engineering Technician, demonstrating bridge discharge measurement equipment in 1957 at the low-water crossing (Redbud Trail) on the Colorado River below Tom Miller Dam in Austin, TX.  Shows  truck-mounted current meter and 100-pound sounding weight.   Photo pre-dates the formation of Town Lake (now called Ladybird Lake).
  5. 1963 water level measurement.  G.E. Koberg, USGS hydrologist, examining a water-stage recorder which records the stage of a water impoundment located twelve miles northwest of Laredo.