If you’re planning a weekend getaway and are considering camping along the river, beyond getting everyone’s schedules coordinated, there are some important things to remember both for safety and also to make sure you are not breaking any laws.
The first point is that all navigable rivers in Texas are state-owned. That means activities such as camping, fishing and picnicking are legal on sandbars in areas such as the Brazos River. Texas law has defined the boundary between public property and potentially private property as the gradient boundary on each side of the river. This is sometimes defined as the area beyond the riverbed where green plants begin to grow. However, defining the gradient boundary is not always so simple, and numerous court cases have addressed the issue.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in referencing the area of a riverbed, cited one U.S. Supreme Court ruling said: “When we speak of the bed we include all of the area which is kept practically bare of vegetation by the wash of the waters of the river from year to year in their onward course, although parts of it are left dry for months at a time; and we exclude the lateral valleys … which have the characteristics of relatively fast land and usually are covered by upland grasses and grasses and vegetation, although temporarily overflowed in exceptional instances when the river is at flood.”
While you may be within your legal rights to camp or fish in a certain area, if you are confronted by someone who insists otherwise, it is better to stay safe rather than argue about your rights. If confronted, it is best not to escalate the confrontation, and instead move to another area where you are safer. Once you are out of harm’s way, you can contact a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden or other law enforcement official and explain the situation to them.
One of the most important points of which you should be aware is that releases of water from a reservoir upstream, in addition to inflow caused by storms upstream, can quickly change the elevation of the water and the flow rate. These rapid changes can turn a calm and peaceful campout into an emergency. Check weather forecasts frequently both before and while you are on your campout. Also be sure to keep up with water release updates posted by the Brazos River Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. BRA releases are updated on our website and Facebook (see information below). If you won’t have internet access, ask a family member or friend to watch for release updates so they can contact you with important information.
It may be clear and sunny where you are, but bad weather upstream can have a strong and sudden impact on areas downstream, depending on how fast water is traveling. Quickly changing conditions can be a problem any time but can be especially dangerous if they occur in the middle of the night if you have pitched a tent on a sandbar. It’s important to be aware that the changes can occur and to have a plan in place to get to safety quickly
Wherever you are camping or visiting, please make sure that you do not leave trash behind or do anything to disturb the natural beauty of an area. A good rule of thumb is “leave no trace.” Leave the Brazos River just as you found it, or better yet, pick up trash if you come upon any on the riverbed or in the water. Our fish and wildlife will thank you!
You can check on water releases from Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury and Lake Limestone at www.brazos.org. That website also has links to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes located in the Brazos River basin.
One of the best sources of safety information throughout the state is Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens, who develop extensive knowledge of specific areas in which they operate. To locate a game warden, go here.