Discovering the Science Behind Water & the Journey Forward

Up to 60% of the human body is water, but Brazos River Authority employee Brad Brunett’s number is probably higher with how much time he spends thinking about water.

As a part of the BRA’s management team, Brunett, 50, naturally has an interest in H2O, but he also spends free time with his family and a rod and reel, on a boat, or at a deer lease near the water.

And it’s been that way since he was a kid growing up near Lake Whitney, where he’d put out trotlines with his dad and brothers or camp along the Brazos River.

It wasn’t, however, until college that those two worlds began to collide.

The science of water

Brunett, BRA lower and central basin regional manager, received a Bachelor of Science degree in hydrology and water resources in 1994 from Tarleton State University in Stephenville. He had initially planned to take a few basic courses at the college before transferring to Texas A&M University in College Station to obtain an engineering degree. But one day, Brad walked into the engineering building on Tarleton’s campus and noticed the building shared space with the hydrology department. At that point, he’d never heard of the word hydrology. Itching to know, he did a little research, and quickly learned hydrology was, so to speak, the study of water. Hydrology is the science encompassing the occurrence, distribution, movement and properties of water and its relationship with the environment within each phase of the hydrologic cycle, according to the USGS.

Suddenly engineering didn’t seem that interesting. Brunett had discovered a field of study surrounding something he already loved: water. As luck may have it, Tarleton at the time had the only undergraduate hydrology program in the state.

Brunett said he remembers thinking that no matter what happens in the world, all the changes that come with technology and advancements in life, there will always be a need for water, which gave him a sense of job security.

Plus, staying local kept him closer to his girlfriend, now his wife, who attended the same college.

Expanding horizons

BRA General Manager/CEO David Collinsworth said that as a long-time employee with multiple leadership positions, Brunett is invaluable to the BRA.

“He has knowledge of virtually every line of business, understands our water supply challenges and operations, and works daily with our customers,” Collinsworth said. “Brad is a problem solver and team builder, and our organization is better because of him.”

Brunett worked a few places before a former boss reached out and told him about an open position with the BRA.

After a successful interview, Brunett joined the Brazos River Authority as a hydrologist/planner in 1997. He’s now worked for the BRA for 24 years and has served in a multitude of different positions, including water services manager, hydrologist and planner, the regional business development manager, and as senior hydrologist.

As the regional manager for the central and lower basins, he now manages a staff of more than 80 employees and is responsible for reservoir and dam operations, water and wastewater treatment and project development.

The Brazos River watershed is divided into three basins. The upper basin stretches from the New Mexico and Texas border down, just below Interstate 20, to Eastland and Hood and Johnson counties, between Abilene and Waco. The central basin starts immediately after, in Erath and Comanche counties, and extends past I-35 and Temple to Williamson and Falls counties. The lower basin extends the rest of the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Of the three BRA-owned and operated reservoirs, one lies within the central and lower basin: Lake Limestone and the Sterling C. Robertson Dam, located on the upper Navasota River in Limestone, Robertson and Leon counties. And since water quality is one of the highest priorities of the Brazos River Authority, the BRA operates and maintains a number of wastewater treatment plants, all within the central and lower basin. The BRA also owns and operates a regional surface water treatment plant in Williamson County, the East Williamson County Regional Water System.

Overseeing it all keeps Brunett on his toes.

“Each facility is unique from the other,” Brunett said.

Brunett works to maintain relationships and stay engaged, with not only the BRA staff across the central and lower basin, but the customers who work directly with the BRA within that area. BRA’s customers include municipalities, water districts, water supply corporations, agricultural users, irrigators, steam electric generating facilities, manufacturing entities, and mining operations.

Working in the variety of positions Brunett has held over the two decades has helped him thrive in the position he holds today. Brunett said he’s worked with several different bosses, holding different job titles, and with different peers, which made him a better employee for the BRA and allowed him to see so many different parts of the organization.

But it was never his goal to be on the move. Brunett said his nature and personality make him reluctant to leave his comfort zone. However, he said, he was fortunate to be pushed out of his comfort zone by his peers and bosses, who encouraged him to take on new roles within the organization.

“Being involved in so many things has broadened my horizons,” he said.

Looking forward

Once he landed a position in which he supervised staff for the first time, Brunett said, he had to learn to delegate.

“I really had to adjust where I don’t necessarily do day-to-day work as I used to. I’m more trying to delegate and get the people that work for me the resources they need, the morale and confidence they need, to do their jobs,” he said.

With almost a quarter of a century of experience under his belt, Brunett said, the biggest challenge moving forward for the BRA, and the state, is making sure there is enough water for everyone. This entails maintaining the existing water supply infrastructure and developing new sources of supply to meet the growing needs of the basin.

“The growth we’re seeing right now across the state and the basin is higher than what anybody would have imagined,” Brunett said. “It’s creating a challenge for water providers to keep up.”

BRA customers have a decent cushion of water, so as customers grow, there’s room to grow. But there are some areas where that cushion isn’t as large.

“That’s the greatest challenge other than maintaining existing infrastructure,” he said.

Brunett said he’d encourage everyone across the Brazos River basin to know where their water comes from and have some basic knowledge about how much water exists, and what the situation looks like with the provider. It’s going to be important for people to learn to be more conservative with water, he said.

“In the future, society is going to have to do a better job of making do with less,” Brunett said. “Anything people can do to conserve water and use it wisely is needed.”

Dreams come true

After 24 years with the organization, Brunett said, he’s never wanted to leave.

“When I got the opportunity at the Brazos River Authority, that was my dream job,” he said. “You never know if it’s going to pan out when you start with a new organization. But I can honestly say I haven’t ever gone out looking for another job. I’ve been happy. I’m happy with the type of work I do. I’m happy with the people I work with here, and the Brazos River Authority is a good place to work.”

Brunett said he fell in love with not only the BRA’s mission to develop, manage, and protect the water resources of the Brazos River basin to meet the needs of Texas. The position also allowed him to stay close to where he grew up in Whitney. Memories run deep along the riverbanks for Brunett, who spent so much time on the water as a child. And new memories continue to be created as he continues to spend time fishing, on the water or at the deer lease with his wife, three children, son-in-law, and granddaughter.