CROSS CUT – To the inexperienced person standing on the crest of a dam in northwest Brown County where repair and restructuring work has been ongoing for the last several months, it looks like a lot of dark brown dirt.
But to the county workers, commissioners and Jule Richmond, representing the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts, who toured the dam site Monday, it looked like a whole lot more – and a lot different.
The dam, about a mile north of Cross Cut, is one of 58 aging, overgrown and breached or nearly breached dam sites being rebuilt, cleared and fortified thanks to an infusion of state grant money and in-kind services from Brown County workers and earth-moving equipment.
“This represents $275,000 coming into Brown County,” said Richmond. “There’s $248,000 in actual dollars and the remainder is made up by the in-kind work.
“The principals in this are the Pecan Bayou Soil and Water Conservation District, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Brown County and the City of Brownwood.”
County workers didn’t try to count the number of trees cleared from the 11-acre dam site, but shake their heads wearily when asked to try and calculate.
“All I can tell you, is it looks a whole lot different than it did,” said Rick Dowdy, one of the county workers who’s been on the job helping clear the hundreds of full-grown trees and thick brush, grade the inclines and remove thousands of feet of government fence installed in 1961.
In the next few weeks, the grades will be seeded with native grasses that will tolerate cool to freezing temperatures and warm to hot seasons and the county workers will finish with their in-kind services, building approximately 6,700 feet of new fence.
Standing on the crest, Richmond explained that a lot of people who would see the dam would be shocked that there is hardly any water to be seen. In fact, for much of the length of the dam, cattle are grazing.
“These dams are designed to protect life and property,” Richmond said. “The aim here is not to store water, but to be able to channel water without threatening life and land when there is a flood.”
Trees, which had taken root and grown wildly and abundantly in the five decades or so since the dams were created, can be and are a major threat in a flooded area, Richmond said. Their roots don’t hold the soil when flood waters rise, and once a tree topples, it goes with the flow of the water and can cause considerable damage.
Just about all of the 58 dams and spillways in Brown County that will be cleared, re-graded and repaired were built during the 1950s and 60s.
“The magic number is 50 years of age,” Richmond said. “At 50 years, the government feels the dam has reached its life span. If the upkeep has continued, the dam may still be effective or in good shape, though that doesn’t happen as much as it should. But from the government’s point of view, taxpayers have gotten the full benefit of their money after 50 years.
“The work being done now on these dams in Brown County will give the people here a good 50 more years protection,” Richmond said. “Plus it’s good for our soil and water conservation. This has been such a great thing for our county, and the cooperation between the entities to make it work is really impressive.”