Before the construction of dams along Texas rivers in the mid-twentieth century, many cities experienced severe flooding. The Brazos River Basin frequently flooded, wreaking havoc upon those who lived near the banks. Although periodic flooding aided cotton farmers in the early nineteenth century, it hindered the development of infrastructure along the river.
Despite its destructive force, the river provided a wealth of resources for trade, transportation, drinking water, and hydroelectric power. Additionally, many Wacoans desired to use the river as an alternative to the railroads for transporting crops. In 1905, the Rivers and Harbors Act provided funds for the US Army Corps of Engineers to build a series of locks and dams on the Brazos just south of Waco to make it navigable and less prone to flooding. Yet in December 1913, all these efforts proved to be for naught.
Frequent storms in the fall of 1913 often left rivers swollen and water standing in fields. On the morning of December 5, 1913, widespread, heavy rain began to fall across Central Texas. This rainfall added to the already swollen waters of the Brazos River. As the river grew, it overflowed its banks and inundated much of East Waco. The raging waters killed two people and destroyed numerous businesses and houses. The river shifted course due to the heavy flooding, rendering the corps of engineers’ construction project useless. Due to the high cost of rebuilding and the onset of World War I, further efforts to construct a dam were abandoned.
Further south in Texas, the Brazos River and Colorado River overflowed their banks and joined, thereby changing the course of the river and killing 172 people. Recognizing the dire need to curb the unpredictability of the Brazos River, the Brazos River and Valley Improvement Association formed in 1915. Though the association met with the federal Committee on Flood Control on several occasions, the reach of its efforts was limited by its lack of funding.
Although the results were not immediately visible, the 1913 flood spurred action for institution of measures to protect the city of Waco from further flooding, such as the Texas State Legislature flood control study in 1923 and the construction of the first Lake Waco Dam in 1929.