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Canadian River Project History (61KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits


General Description

The Canadian River Project is in the Texas panhandle, providing municipal and industrial water for 11 cities and towns throughout the High Plains area. Primary purpose of the project is to supply water to the Texas cities of Borger, Pampa, Amarillo, Plainview, Lubbock, Slaton, Tahoka, O`Donnell, Lamesa Levelland, and Brownfield. Principal storage structure is Sanford Dam on the Canadian River about 37 miles northeast of Amarillo. Additional features include 323 miles of pipelines, 10 pumping plants, and 3 regulating reservoirs.

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Lake Meredith, the reservoir formed by Sanford Dam, has sufficient capacity to store the flows of the Canadian River available to the project under provisions of the Canadian River Compact. The water impounded in Lake Meredith is pumped to the 11 cities participating in the project, all of which are at elevations higher than the reservoir. The available water supply has been allocated to the project cities according to agreements negotiated by the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority. The cities will supplement project deliveries through continued use of ground water.

Facility Descriptions

Sanford Dam is on the Canadian River 8 miles west of Borger, Texas, and 37 miles northeast of Amarillo. It is a zoned earthfill structure with a crest width of 40 feet, a crest length of 6,380 feet, and a structural height of 228 feet. The spillway has an ungated morning-glory entrance structure, a 22-foot-diameter concrete conduit, and a chute and stilling basin.

Lake Meredith, has a total capacity of 1,382,500 acre-feet. The reservoir provides flood control, fish and wildlife, recreation, and municipal and industrial water supply.

Aqueduct System

The aqueduct system includes about 323 miles of pipeline, consisting of reinforced concrete and steel cylinder pipe ranging in size from 15 to 96 inches. Ten pumping plants; regulating reservoirs at the high points of the system near Amarillo, Lubbock, and Borger; several regulating tanks; and chlorinating facilities to prevent algae growth in the pipelines comprise the principal features of the system. Water treatment facilities are the responsibility of the cities. Public Law 105-316, dated October 30, 1998 authorized the prepayment of the repayment obligations by the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority and title transfer of the Canadian River Project distribution system. Title transfer and prepayment was complete May 25, 1999.

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After Texas entered the Union in 1845, the United States established a line of camps and forts, passing through the vicinity of Abilene, from the Red River to the Rio Grande. The frontier was pushed rapidly westward during the 1850's, but military protection was withdrawn during the Civil War. Confusion attending the reconstruction period retarded westward immigration and development, but in 1876 the counties of the Texas Panhandle were formed and cattle raising started. This constituted the first agricultural effort of the region. As settlement progressed, it was supplemented by production of forage and other crops for local consumption. Irrigation from wells began in 1911, but development was relatively slow until the drought of the 1930's. An estimated 52,000 irrigation wells are now in operation in the 42-county High Plains. The principal crops grown under irrigation in this region are cotton, feed crops, and vegetables which are irrigated in the spring, summer, and fall, and winter wheat which is irrigated in the fall, winter, and spring. Prior to opening of the Panhandle oil and gas fields in 1921, industrial development was limited to the railroads and various establishments producing goods for local consumption. At present, the principal industrial establishments are those engaged in extracting, processing, and distributing oil, natural gas, and helium and their products.


Beginning in 1900, the Geological Survey made several reports about ground water in the area. From 1935 to 1946, the Corps of Engineers made flood control and related investigations of the Canadian River. In 1941, the Bureau of Reclamation initiated an investigation of the Arkansas River Basin that included the portion of the Canadian River identified with the project. In a letter dated May 3, 1948, the Department of the Interior was asked to investigate and report on the possibilities of developing the water and related resources in the Texas Panhandle, with special attention to the area in the Canadian River Basin. Later, the Texas congressional delegation requested that the Bureau of Reclamation, as the Federal agency primarily responsible for water conservation activities, expedite its investigation and report upon the feasibility of developing the Canadian River as a source of municipal and industrial water in northwest Texas. A series of meetings was held and representatives of local interests were advised to submit estimated requirements with an awareness that they would be required to assume contractual obligations prior to project construction to pay for the water desired. The Bureau of Reclamation prepared a feasibility report in 1949. The Texas Legislature created the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority and authorized it to contract with the Federal Government under the Federal reclamation laws. A definite plan report was prepared by Reclamation in November 1960.


The Canadian River Compact Commission, composed of representatives from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and the Federal Government, was organized on June 30, 1950, in accordance with provisions of Public Law 491, 81st Congress, 2d session, approved April 29, 1950, granting the consent of the Congress to negotiations between the States for division of the waters of the Canadian River. The compact was ratified by the three States by May 10, 1951, and given Federal ratification in Public Law 345, 82d Congress, 2d session, approved June 2, 1952. The project was authorized by Public Law 898, 81st Congress, 2d session, December 29, 1950 (64 Stat. 1124).


Construction of the Canadian River Project began with the award of the construction contract for Sanford Dam in February 1962. Continuation of construction involved award of many contracts for the aqueduct system, including various components such as segments of the pipelines, pumping plants, structures, building control systems, relocations, crossing agreements, and chlorination stations. Construction of the aqueduct system was sufficiently complete to initiate water deliveries in April 1968 and to transfer operation and maintenance responsibility to the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority on July 1, 1968. Subsequent completion of minor construction items was accomplished by the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority and the Bureau of Reclamation.

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Municipal and Industrial

The project works provide for storage and delivery of water supplies to supplement the municipal and industrial needs of 11 cities in the High Plains area of Texas. In addition, several industries located near the project facilities are provided with water through contractual arrangements with the cities and the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority.

Water has been supplied to these cities from project facilities since completion of construction of the aqueduct system in 1968. Water deliveries by the project have varied to meet the demands, from about 29,000 acre-feet in 1968 to more than 77,000 acre-feet in 1980. The project works will deliver water to meet future needs of up to 103,000 acre-feet per year, which is the firm annual reservoir yield.

The four northernmost cities in the project area receive untreated water and each provides its own water treatment facilities. The seven cities in the southern portion of the project, through agreement, use a water treatment facility at Lubbock, Texas. The aqueduct system delivering water to the seven cities in the southern area is designed, constructed, and operated to convey potable, treated water supplies.


Lake Meredith provides excellent recreation opportunities to residents of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and others traveling to the area. The recreation areas were originally administered by the National Park Service, under an agreement among the Park Service, the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, and the Bureau of Reclamation*. The lake provides over 100 miles of shoreline and over 16,000 acres of water surface (at elevation 2936.5) surrounded by 200-foot-deep steep-walled canyons and broken grassland. It is open year-round for fishing which includes bass, crappie, walleye, and several species of catfish.

Recreation facilities provided in the reservoir area include access roads, parking areas, picnic tables and shelters, drinking water, boat launching ramps, boat docks, a floating `Fish-O-Rama,` a swimming area, and public restrooms.

Among the animals in the Lake Meredith recreation area are deer, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, rabbits, porcupines, skunks, turkeys, quail, and dove. In the winter, there are ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes. Hunting is allowed in special areas in season.

For specific information click on the name below:

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area

* However, in 1990 Congress passed Public Law 101-628 which established the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area as an official unit of the National Park System. As a result of this law, the original agreement was terminated.

Flood Control

Flood control benefits are included in the project. Historically, the damsite has experienced a number of major damaging floods. No major floods have occurred at Sanford Dam since construction was completed and storage of water began.

Conchas Reservoir, an upstream Canadian River reservoir in New Mexico. was constructed by the Corps of Engineers. Additionally, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission has constructed Ute Reservoir on the Canadian River near the New Mexico-Texas State line. Flood control operations at Sanford Dam will involve cooperation between the Corps of Engineers, the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, and the Bureau of Reclamation. Flood control operations to control storage above an elevation of 2,941.3 ft are under the direction of the Corps of Engineers.

Lake Meredith has 543,276 acre feet of capacity assigned to flood control. The Candian River Project has provided an accumulated $288,000 in flood control benefits from 1950 to 1999.

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Last updated: Apr 04, 2013