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Watermasters: What They Do and How They're Created

What watermasters do, water right holder’s fees that fund the programs, and how programs are established.

What Watermasters Do

Watermaster programs ensure compliance with water rights within their designated basins.  Watermaster programs perform the following functions:

  • Monitor streamflows, reservoir levels, and water use.
  • Identify and stop illegal diversions.
  • Conduct regular inspections.
  • Determine if a water right holder can divert water. 
    • The watermaster allocates available water among water right holders according to each user’s priority date.
    • Before diverting water in any way, water right holders must notify the watermaster of their proposed diversion through a Declaration of Intent and receive approval for the diversion. 
    • After receiving a Declaration of Intent, the watermaster determines whether approving the Declaration of Intent would allow a water right holder to divert water that rightfully belongs to another user. 
    • The watermaster may notify a user with more junior water rights to reduce or to stop pumping to accommodate a Declaration of Intent from a senior user. 
  • If a water right holder does not comply with a water right or TCEQ’s rules, the watermaster may prevent the owner from diverting, taking, or storing water until the issue is corrected.
  • Holders of storage rights notify the watermaster when they plan to release water for downstream customers. The watermaster can then monitor usage downstream to ensure that the released water reaches the buyer.
  • The watermaster works regularly with water users in the program basin(s) and facilitates communication and cooperation among the water users.
  • Provide technical assistance.

Program Fees

To pay for the operating expenses of the program, the TCEQ collects fees from all water right holders within the watermaster’s jurisdiction. Certain domestic and livestock uses are exempted from water rights permitting and any fees associated with the watermaster program.

Accounts are maintained for each type of authorized use under a water right. The total assessment per account includes two fees:

  1. a base fee, currently $50 per account

    • This fee generally does not change from year to year.

  2. a use fee, charged on the total number of acre-feet of water for each authorized use

    • The use fee is calculated each year and is based on the proposed operating budget for each watermaster program.

In addition, users will be required to install an accurate meter on their diversion facilities or pumps. Users are solely responsible for the costs associated with the meter purchase, installation and maintenance. 

How a Watermaster Program is Established

Under the Texas Water Code, a watermaster may be appointed:

  • by the TCEQ, for an established water division.  Water divisions may be created from time to time as needed, to protect water rights holders, while keeping the costs of state supervision reasonable; (TWC, Section 11.325Exit the TCEQ)

  • by the TCEQ if senior water rights have been threatened, and upon receipt of a petition of 25 or more water right holders in a river basin or segment of a river basin, or on its own motion; or

  • by the court.

By statute: 

  • The legislature may also establish a watermaster program.

 Contact Information

TCEQ Watermaster Section
MC-160
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, TX 78711-3087          
(512) 239-4600