Skip to Content
Questions or Comments:

Am I Regulated? Water Rights in Texas

What is state water? How is it regulated in Texas? Who needs a permit to use it? Find out how to apply to use state water or to change the ownership or authorizations of an existing water right.

What is State (Surface) Water?

  • The water of the ordinary flow, underflow, and tides of every flowing river, natural stream, and lake, and of every bay or arm of the Gulf of Mexico, and the stormwater, floodwater, and rainwater of every river, natural stream, and watercourse in the state.
  • Water that is imported from any source outside the boundaries of the state for use in the state, and that is transported through the bed and banks of any navigable stream within the state, or by utilizing any facilities owned or operated by the state.
  • State water does not include percolating groundwater; nor does it include diffuse surface rainfall runoff, groundwater seepage, or spring water before it reaches the watercourse.

Who Owns State Water?

Surface water in Texas is owned by the state and held in trust for the citizens of the state. The state grants the right to use this water to different people, such as farmers or ranchers, cities, industries, business, and other public and private interests.

How Are Water Rights Prioritized?

Water rights have priority dates which indicate the seniority of one water right over another, known as "first in time, first in right." In times of drought, those with the earliest dates have the right to get water before those with newer dates. Today, priority dates for new appropriations of water are based on the date the application is declared administratively complete.

Do I Need a Permit to Use State Water?

Anyone who wants to use surface water in Texas must first get permission from the state, unless they are using the water for one of several “exempt uses” in the Texas Water Code.

Some exemptions include: domestic and livestock use, wildlife management, emergencies like wildfires, and other specified uses (see Texas Water Code Section 11.142

What if I'm in a Watermaster Area?

If you are in the Brazos, Concho, or Rio Grande River basin, or South Texas, see our Watermasters webpage for information about water rights in these areas.