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Watermaster decision goes before commission

UPDATE: Nov. 15, 2017 - At today's commission meeting, TCEQ commissioners decided not to establish any new watermaster programs in the below-mentioned river basins.

Approximately 80,000 miles of waterways flow through our state’s 23 river basins. For several of these basins, the state has designated “watermasters,” whose job is to ensure that entities with certain water rights are complying with the terms of those rights. They do this by monitoring stream flows, reservoir levels, and water use, as well as managing diversions. In all other areas of the state, the TCEQ regional offices ensure compliance with state-issued water rights.

The right to use Texas waterways often stretches back decades. The state follows the “first in time, first in right” policy, which means if a landowner obtained a water right 50 years ago, he or she may have priority over one who acquired a right more recently. The role of a watermaster is particularly important during times of drought, when water resources must be shared among numerous stakeholders. The watermaster is able to monitor water use on a daily basis, and manage diversions in accordance with the priority system.

Not all basins have watermaster programs. So at least once every five years, the TCEQ evaluates whether or not to establish a watermaster program for the basins with no watermaster. Most recently, the agency evaluated the Colorado Basin, the Upper Brazos Basin, and three coastal basins.

As a result of the evaluation, the TCEQ executive director has recommended not moving forward with establishing watermaster programs for these basins.

The decision is now up to the three commissioners. If they agree with the executive director’s recommendation, then no new watermaster programs are established. If they disagree, however, a hearing will be held to further examine whether or not establishing a program would be necessary for the basins.

If there are no new watermaster programs established, then water rights management continues as it has, overseen by TCEQ region offices, and not by a separate watermaster program.