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Texas Clean Rivers Program: History and Overview

An overview of how the program works, how the public participates, and why the program uses a watershed management approach.

Clean Rivers Program logo next to a waterbody

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How Does the Clean Rivers Program Work?

The Texas Legislature passed the Texas Clean Rivers Act in response to growing concerns that water resource issues were not being addressed in a holistic manner. The 1991 legislation requires that assessments for each river basin in Texas integrate management of water quality within a river basin or watershed. To fund the program, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) assesses a fee from permit holders for water use and wastewater discharges.

The TCEQ implements the Program by contracting with 15 partner agencies—12 river authorities, one water district, one federal agency, and one council of government—to monitor and assess water quality in the 23 river and coastal basins of Texas. Each river or coastal basin is assigned to one of the partner agencies. It is through these partnerships that the Clean Rivers Program (CRP) is able to support the Clean Rivers Program Long-Term Plan objectives and to support the goal of maintaining and improving the quality of water within each river basin in Texas. 

How Does the Public Participate?

The Texas Clean Rivers Act established a way for the citizens of Texas to participate in building effective watershed planning strategies. Each CRP partner agency has established a steering committee to set priorities within its basin. These committees bring together the diverse interests in each basin and include representatives from the public, government, industry, business, agriculture, and environmental groups.

The steering committees address local concerns and recommend regional solutions. For more information about participating in these steering committee meetings and to contribute your views about water quality, contact the appropriate CRP partner agency for your river basin.

How Did Stakeholder Input Improve the Program

In September 1995, the TCEQ began meeting with stakeholders from government, industry, business, agriculture, and environmental interest groups to discuss watershed management and how to improve the Clean Rivers Program. The stakeholders identified several program development issues and formed two subcommittees to develop legislative and funding recommendations.

The Legislative Subcommittee sought solutions to the stakeholders’ significant issues with the program’s structure and objectives. The Subcommittee proposed program revisions in five major areas of the Texas Water Code—monitoring and assessment, accountability, Texas Water Code 26.177

The Funding Subcommittee looked for ways to broaden the fee-payer base and to achieve equity in the fee assessment. A comprehensive list of options was developed and evaluated based on equity, administrative feasibility, the stability of the revenue source, whether the funding source was water-related, the pollution-reduction incentive of the funding option, and legislative practicality. Ultimately, the Funding Subcommittee recommended continuation of the existing funding mechanism.

Why Does the Clean Rivers Program Use a Watershed Management Approach?

Watershed management, a resource-centered approach, is not new. It is simply a way to geographically coordinate and connect water resource management activities to better achieve environmental goals. The term “watershed” in this context is broadly defined as the geographic delineation of an entire river basin and the land that drains into it.

Management by watershed is both logical and necessary. All surface water within a basin that is not consumed, contained, or evaporated eventually reaches the major rivers of that basin. Consequently, all human and natural activities upstream have the potential to affect water quality and quantity downstream. Industrial, municipal, agricultural, and other activities are interrelated with the quality of surface water.

Planning and management by watershed allows the examination of complex relationships between water resources and human activity. The water quality assessments performed under the CRP focus on the cumulative effects of a variety of potential pollutant sources.

By looking at the entire watershed, agencies can make more informed decisions when implementing permits and other management practices. For instance, the effects of discharges from domestic and industrial point sources can be assessed in combination with other potential contributing factors such as non-point source pollutants from agricultural and urban storm water runoff, along with natural influences that may be unique to a particular ecoregion or watershed.

Where Can I Find More Information?

Visit The Texas Clean Rivers Program for links to water quality assessments, guidance, and partner information. Or e-mail us at For an overview of the TCEQ’s strategy and programs for managing the quality of the state’s surface water resources, see Preserving and Improving Water Quality.

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