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Nueces River Project
Photo of Choke Canyon Dam
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General Description | Plan | Development | Benefits
General Description

The Nueces River Project is located on the coastal plain of South Texas midway between the cities of San Antonio and Corpus Christi. Choke Canyon Dam is on the Frio River about 4 miles west of the town of Three Rivers, named for the confluence of the Frio, Nueces, and Atascosa Rivers. Low-lying hills force the three rivers into a constricted channel, thus the name Choke Canyon.

Live Oak and Post Oak trees are generally found near the rivers while Mesquite, Huisache, Blackbrush, and grasses cover most of the rest of the area. The area has long and hot summers, mild winters, and erratic precipitation. Occasional hurricanes produce major storms and flooding.

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Facility Descriptions

Choke Canyon dam is a rolled earthfill structure about 115 feet high and approximately 3 miles long. Almost 6 million cubic yards of earthfill were used in construction of the dam. The dam has a cutoff trench along its entire length excavated to sound rock and backfilled with select impervious material and was completed in 1982.

A concrete spillway, located on the left abutment of the dam, consists of an inlet structure, a chute, a stilling basin, and a gate structure with seven radial gates designed to pass the probable maximum flood without endangering the safety of the structure. The radial gates are 50 by 24 feet with a a release capacity of about 250,000 cubic feet per second.

The river outlet works include a multi level intake structure which allows water of different temperatures, nutrient values, and dissolved oxygen contents to be released as necessary for fish and wildlife benefits downstream. A 99-inch diameter steel-lined upstream conduit, a gate chamber structure, a horseshoe downstream conduit, a control structure, a covered chute, and a stilling basin complete the system.

When filled to the top of the conservation pool at an elevation of 220.5 feet, Choke Canyon Reservoir covers 26,000 acres along 34 river miles in Live Oak and McMullen Counties. The reservior would cover 35,000 acres at the maximum water surface elevation of 233.0 feet. The reservior capacity for conservation storage is over 700,000 acre-feet with room for an additional 380,000 acre-feet of surcharge capacity. Some timber was left standing in the reservoir area to improve fishery resources. Selective clearing was done for boating access and multiple-use purposes.

Water Supply

Choke Canyon reservoir is operated in conjunction with Lake Corpus Christi to provide 252,000 acre- feet of water per year for municipal and industrial use. Choke Canyon Reservoir yields about 139,000 acre-feet annually of that amount.

Water released from Choke Canyon Reservoir flows through the Frio River about 10 miles to the Nueces River and then down the Nueces River about 30 miles to Lake Corpus Christi where it is re-regulated. The Frio River drainage area above Choke Canyon Dam is over 5,000 square miles within the Nueces River basin.

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Rattlers, gators, armadillos, and javelina were companions of early survey crews as they worked in the area of the Nueces River Project near Three Rivers, Texas. One contract worker in 1976 referred to them as `critters.` He said the real `Legend of Choke Canyon` was a 9-foot alligator that made his home in ranch ponds. The aggressive alligator frequently left the tank to greet visitors and eventually had to be relocated. Other alligators also had to be moved from one location to another during construction activities.

For many years Mexico claimed the Nueces River as the boundary between Mexico and Texas. The Nueces River is in the area south Texas known as Brush Country where Texas cattle industry had its beginning as settlers built herds from wild cattle in the area. The settlers lived in towns for the most part because isolation threatened their survival. The frontier towns were located along banks of rivers, with Tilden and Oakville being the first towns in McMullen and Live Oak Counties. In the late 19th century, that pattern began to change as the cattle industry expanded and the sheep and wool industries evolved. The isolation of ranch life became a standard. Agriculture is very limited in the area.

Around the turn of the century, oil an gas exploration exploded. One of the first oil wells was on the Calliham ranch. The owner immediately built a store, and the town of Calliham was born. Calliham was quickly a `boom town,` but declined just as quickly some 30 years later. Since the town of Calliham was to be inundated by the construction of Choke Canyon Dam, Reclamation relocated the Town and its residents about 2 miles to the south adjacent to relocated State Highway 72.

Uranium and lilgnite mines now add to the area's economy along with oil and gas, but ranching is still predominate.


Limited archeological fieldwork has been done in Live Oak and McMullen Counties prior to advance planning for the Nueces River Project. Now more than 500 areheological and historical sites have been recorded in the reservoir area. Most of the sites were prehistoric Indian campgrounds, but some were homesteads and cemeteries dating from the 1850's.

One of the 19th century sites, the Nichol's House, was located just below the damsite and had to be moved during construction. It was fully documented and determined eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. It was one of the first homesteads built in the area and also was used as a stagecoach stop at one time.


Field hearings concerning the Nueces River Project were held by the House Subcommittee on Water and Power Resources of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs in Three Rivers, Texas, on November 10, 1973. The Nueces River Project was authorized by Public law 93-493, dated October 27, 1974, to develop a dependable water supply for municipal and industrial use by the City of Corpus Christi and other populated areas of the Coastal Bend. Operation of the project has been turned over to the City of Corpus Christi and the Nueces River Authority.

The multipurpose project also provides for fish and wildlife conservation and outdoor recreational opportunities. Currently a pilot project for wetlands enhancement is in place for the Rincon Bayou.


The project organization commenced with the opening of an office in Three Rivers, Texas, on May 16, 1976. Bids for construction were opened at the Three Rivers City Hall on May 11, 1978. The construction contract was awarded to the Holloway Companies August 8, 1978 with a notice to proceed August 10, 1978 and scheduled completion date of February 10, 1982.

The contractor began earthwork operations at Choke Canyon Dam on October 2, 1978. By July 1980, the geological mapping of the foundation for the dam cutoff trench was complete as well as the foundation for the outlet works.

Excavation revealed that the preliminary interpretations related to the geologic conditions were remarkably accurate. Twenty-four modifications were necessary during the construction of the dam. Earth materials and aggregate for construction of the dam embankment were obtained from the reservoir area. Riprap for the outlet works and downstream from the spillway was obtained from commerical limestone quarries about 135 miles from the damsite.

Hurricane Allen made landfall on August 11, 1980 causing 11.13 inches of rain over the project area within a three day period. As a result of the excessive rains, the contractor was unable to resume work until August 18, 1980.

By May 18, 1982, Choke Canyon Dam was considered substantially complete. The only work remaining at that time was placing of soil cement at the closure section and final testing of the radial hoist and gate position indicators.

The official dedication ceremony was held at the spillway structure on June 8, 1982. There were approximately 1,300 persons in attendance for the ceremony.

The Final Construction report for Choke Canyon Dam was completed January 12, 1984.

The Nueces River Project was selected to be the first major construction project to use SI metric units of measurement in lieu of English units except where SI metric units were not practical.

Operating Agencies

Responsibility for the operation and maintenance of Choke Canyon Dam was transferred to the City of Corpus Christi and the Nueces River Authority on September 30, 1983. A pre-transfer examination of Choke Canyon Dam and appurtenant structures was performed August 23-24 by representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation and the City of Corpus Christi.

On February 25, 1981, the City of Corpus Christi and the Nueces River Authority transferred all their rights and obligations under the Choke Canyon Contract relating to the care, operation, and maintenance of project works related to the recreation, fish and wildlife and open space resources to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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Municipal and Industrial

Municipal and industrial water deliveries are made available to the City of Corpus Christi and the Nueces River Authority to supply a firm amount of water.


In addition to the authorized purposes of storing regulating and furnishing water for municipal and industrial use, conserving and developing fish and wildlife resources and providing outdoor recreation purposes were included in the project.

The major recreation development is on the south side of Choke Canyon Reservoir in the areas known as the South Shore Unit and the Calliham Unit. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department opened the South Shore Recreation facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony on March 5, 1986.

The South Shore Unit is divided into two areas, a day-use area on the reservoir and a camping area below the dam on the outlet works channel. Administrative support facilities include a headquarters complex, maintenance building, and a staff residence.

The day-use area has 20 picnic sites, two group picnic pavilions, two comfort stations, two overlook shelters, two fish-cleaning stations, a playground, and associated trails. Below the dam are 20 multi-use campsites with water and electrical hookups and tent pads, a group shelter, a walk-in tent camping area with tables, a restroom with showers, a comfort station, two playgrounds, a trailer dump station, and associated trails. In addition, there are 35 tent camping sites for rent.

The Calliham Unit is the major recreation area. Sports facilities include a basketball/volleyball court, tennis court, shuffleboard court, softball field, swimming pool, bathhouse, large swimming beach cove, and various playgrounds. The original Calliham gymnasium was renovated and includes kitchen facilities for group activities. Administrative support facilities include a headquarters complex, maintenance building and two residences.

An overnight camping area has 20 screened shelters and 40 multi-use sites with water and electrical hookups for recreational vehicles, three group shelters, two restrooms with showers, a trailer dump station, two playgrounds and associated trails. About 80 picnic sites and a larger pavilion are located along the shoreline. Other conveniences include a park store, bait and tackle concession, comfort stations, fishing jetty, and fish-cleaning station. A 75-acre stocked inland lake is reserved for non-powered boats and primitive camping and is complemented by a swimming beach, one lane boat ramp, fishing peninsulas, fish-cleaning stations, comfort station, playground and about 20 picnic sites.

Boat ramps are located in both the South Shore and Calliham Units. Other boat ramps are Black Hills and Mason Point on the south side of the reservoir and San Miguel, Frio River Bridge, and North Shore on the north side.

The Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area, located on the north side of State Highway 72 between Three Rivers and Tilden in Live Oak and McMullen counties, is in the upper portion of the reservoir area. The area was named in honor of State Game warden James E. Daughtrey of Tilden who was fatally injured in an automobile collision while pursuing game law violators. Huniting is allowed on a permit only basis by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Deer, turkey, javelina, quail, and dove are plentiful in the area. Fishing is permitted year round on Choke Canyon Reservoir. Fishing license requirements conform to those in effect for Live Oak and McMullen Counties.

Flood Control

There is no allocation of storage for flood control at Choke Canyon Reservoir; however, the surcharge capacity assists in the control of floods in the area.

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Last updated: Apr 05, 2013