One of Texas’ most valuable natural resources, the Brazos River, flows through the heart of the Lone Star state providing water for thousands of homes and businesses. As the longest river flowing entirely in Texas, ensuring that the river’s surface water is managed effectively is a huge task. The Brazos River Watermaster’s Office is charged with this responsibility and collaborates with Brazos River basin water right holders, including the Brazos River Authority (BRA), to ensure that water right holders receive the water they are entitled to under their permits.
While the two organizations have similar names, they are separate entities. The BRA and many others across the basin have state-issued water rights which are monitored and fall under the jurisdiction of the Brazos Watermaster; a program associated with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The functions of both organizations may not be the same, but they both aim to protect and manage the water of the Brazos River basin.
Under the direction of Molly Mohler, the Brazos Watermaster program closely monitors surface water use by all water rights holders within the Brazos River basin, including the BRA. The watermaster program is responsible for a large portion of the Brazos River basin, including 41 counties, beginning at the BRA’s Possum Kingdom Lake and ending at the Gulf of Mexico.
There are three other watermaster programs in the state of Texas: the South Texas Watermaster area, the Concho River Watermaster area and the Rio Grande Watermaster area. Mohler began her career with the TCEQ when the Concho River Watermaster Program was conceived in 2005.
“The Watermaster Program strives to ensure that everyone gets their fair share of the water,” Mohler said. “Water right holders have become receptive to the program and understand more about the watermaster rules and regulations. During the initial deployment of the [Brazos Watermaster] program, we spent a significant amount of time in education efforts and building rapport with our water rights holders and the public in general. Thanks to these efforts, today we have a good working relationship with the water rights holders and the public in general.”
The Brazos Watermaster Program began full operations on June 1, 2015, and was established through a provision of the Texas Water Code. The watermaster’s office is based in Waco, Texas but deploys six field deputies from offices located in the DFW region, Stephenville, Waco, College Station and Angleton. In total, the Brazos Watermaster program has 10 full-time employees.
“The deputies are driving around their respective areas looking for compliance with water rights and anyone who might be diverting without authorization,” Mohler said. “Outside of the Watermaster area, compliance is on the honor system, and surface water issues are handled on a complaint basis.”
While the Brazos Watermaster program is relatively small, it actively manages water rights for a large area of Texas. The office’s daily duties include ensuring compliance, monitoring streamflow, reservoir levels and water use and coordinating diversions. Those tasks involve allocating the correct amount of water per established water rights, protecting the water rights of permit holders, monitoring USGS gages and responding to complaints about unauthorized water use.
The Watermaster program also oversees situations where a diversion would take water that rightfully belongs to another user. In that case, the watermaster could, if needed, require the user with lower priority to reduce or stop pumping. The watermaster allocates available water among the water rights holders when streamflow decreases according to each user’s priority date.
“Diverters are required to have measuring devices installed prior to diverting water,” Mohler said during the May 2021 BRA Board of Directors Meeting. “This is true for all water right holders, as well as Brazos River Authority customers. Once the measuring device is certified, they can request a diversion. This enables us to manage diversions throughout the basin based on priority.”
Each Watermaster program has a watermaster advisory committee, which provides recommendations regarding the program and its annual budget. The committee must meet every July to review the proposed budget for the upcoming year. The Brazos Watermaster Advisory Committee has 13 members, including Vice Chair Brad Brunett, the Central and Lower Basin Regional manager for the BRA.
The BRA possesses permits for a significant amount of water in the basin because of the 11 reservoirs that make up its water supply system. The BRA currently holds water rights issued by the State of Texas for the system of reservoirs, a 30 percent share in a proposed reservoir, its System Operation Permit, and several other authorizations pertaining to its water supply operations. Collectively, these rights authorize the BRA to supply water from the Brazos River basin for municipal, industrial, agricultural, and mining purposes.
While the BRA water supply system is more complex than most other surface water right holders, being a large permit holder does not exempt the BRA from the requirements of its various water rights, which are monitored and regulated by the watermaster. In order to account for water use by BRA customers throughout the Brazos basin, employees at the BRA work closely with the watermaster’s office to ensure consistent communication.
“Since the beginning, the Brazos Watermaster staff have worked hard to build working relationships with all water right holders, including [the] BRA,” Mohler said. “It is easier when questions arise with BRA customers since we have built a rapport with BRA staff since the inception of the program.”
Besides the BRA, the watermaster also works closely with other surface water rights holders within the basin. The Brazos Watermaster is responsible for allocating water by coordinating diversions, even for private property owners. If you own property along the Brazos River and are interested in pumping water, Mohler shares how the process works.
“If an individual owns property adjacent to a state watercourse and they have a water right, then they would need to install a measuring device and have it certified by one of our deputies. They would then call in diversion estimates and obtain approval before starting the diversion. However, all landowners adjacent to a state watercourse in Texas have the exempt right to divert surface water for domestic, livestock, and wildlife purposes,” Mohler said. “If an individual owns property adjacent to a state watercourse and does not have a water right and seeks to divert surface water for purposes different from domestic, livestock, and wildlife; then they would need to contact the TCEQ Water Rights Permitting section for a pre-water right application meeting.”
For additional information on the Brazos River Watermaster, click here.