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Texas Water Access and Water Rights (19-TX-a)

In the late 1960’s Texas transitioned its water law system, switching from an eastern riparian system to a western prior appropriation system. Today surface water rights (permits) are handled by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ); however, there remain “decreed” riparian water rights that were grandfathered in from the pre-1967 system (Tex. Water Code, Title 2, Chapter 11 Water Rights). Except for wells located in Groundwater Conservation Districts and the Edwards Aquifer, groundwater pumping and usage is controlled by the rule-of-capture and private contracts.

Water Access and Water Rights Process

19-TX-a.1 - Calculate Project Need

The developer will need to contact a water engineer/consultant to calculate the amount of water the project (e.g. exploration, drilling, construction, etc.) will require.

19-TX-a.2 – Locate Appropriate Source of Water Supply

The developer with the assistance of the water engineer/consultant must locate an appropriate source of water supply based on the project’s water needs.

19-TX-a.3 – Is the Supply from a Municipal Supply or Other Governmental Supplier?

In Texas, certain cities, water departments, and municipalities have the ability to sell water for private use.

In addition, in Texas each major river system is managed by a River Authority. The scope and powers of each River Authority varies; however, some are able to sell water to private users.

There are 23 River Authorities in Texas.

Note: The River Authorities in Texas may also control dams, reservoirs, and other waterworks and therefore the flow of streams and rivers. In such situations the River Authority has the power to affect the surface water rights of private parties, especially in times of drought.

19-TX-a.4 - Is the Supply from a Surface Lease Supplier with an Already permitted of Decreed Water Right?

Private parties with Surface Water Permits or a decreed water right are able to sell water to others in certain situations.

19-TX-a.5 to 19-TX-a.7 – Is the Supply Decreed and/or Permitted for the Necessary Use?

Under prior appropriation the TCEQ issues water permits only for limited types of uses (Tex. Water Code, Title 2, Chapter 11 Water Rights). If the supplier’s Surface Water Permit does not cover the developer’s necessary use then the supplier may have to amend the Surface Water Permit.

Surface Water Permit:

19-TX-a.8 to 19-TX-a.9 - Is the Supply from a Groundwater Lease Supplier?

Groundwater suppliers can lease water to other parties. The developer will need to negotiate with the private land owner who controls the groundwater well.

Note: If the groundwater lease supplier is located in a conservation district or the Edwards Aquifer then the supplier will have to abide by the rules and procedures of the local district.

19-TX-a.10 - Is the Supply a Transfer of an Existing Surface Water Right?

If the supply is a transfer of an existing surface water right then see 19-TX-a.12 to 19-TX-a.16 (below); otherwise, the developer will likely need a new surface water right or a source of new groundwater.

New Water Right Process For Surface Water and Groundwater:

19-TX-a.12 to 19-TX-a.16 – Initiate Transfer of Water Right Process

Transfer of Surface Water Right:

Under Texas’s prior appropriation system surface water rights can be transferred; however, if the new use is not covered by the permit, the point of diversion is to be changed, or the amount of water to be used is different then the developer may be required to amend the permit.

If the transferred surface water permit needs to be amended then the developer will likely need to contact a water engineer/consultant to perform a historical use analysis. The TCEQ may not allow a transfer of a surface water right if it interferes with or adversely affects other water rights in the basin. Surface Water Permit:

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Contact Information

Edit Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Water Access and Water Rights Issues Contact 512.239.3678 Visit Website