Records Appraisal Report:
Natural Resource Conservation Commission
Office of Permitting, Remediation and Registration Water Rights Files

Contents of this report
Agency contact | Record Series Review

Internal links to series reviews
Water rights files

Related report
Natural Resource Conservation Commission Office of Permitting, Remediation and Registration Certificates of Adjudication

Archival finding aid
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission: An Inventory of Records at the Texas State Archives, 1990-2001

July 28, 2002, Laura K. Saegert, Appraisal Archivist

Agency contact

This agency contact information was current at the time of the report but may have changed in the interim. Please call (512-463-5455) for current contact information of the agency's records manager or records liaison for these records.

Toni Brown
Office of Administrative Services
Information Resources Division
Records Services

Record Series Review

Records Series Review
Series Title: Water rights files

Obsolete record series? No

Ongoing record series?
Annual accumulation: 2-4 cubic ft. per year

Agency holdings:
219 cubic ft. of records, 23 cubic ft. of oversize materials and photographs, and rolls of Mylar plans (up to several hundred plans). These materials have been recently filmed. The oversize materials and photographs were not microfilmed.

This series consists of documentation of the water rights process and includes water rights (use) applications and permits, records of water use, correspondence and memoranda, field investigation reports, notices and orders from hearings concerning applications for permits, letters protesting applications, lists of water rights permit holders within river basins or in the vicinity of reservoirs, water use contracts, warranty deeds, clippings, maps, and photographs. Dates covered are 1914-1997.

The water use applications and permits date back to 1914, first being issued by the State Board of Water Engineers. Types of information found in an application or permit include name and address of the applicant, date filed, application number, permit number, date permit was issued, watershed, stream, county, approximate location of permit, purpose of permit (livestock, irrigation, etc.), acre feet per year to be used, reservoir capacity (if reservoir was involved), acres to be irrigated, and names and addresses of successive owners of the permit.

Records of water use for each permit were submitted annually to the State Board of Water Engineers and its successors, as required by the permit. Information found in the records of water use include name and address of the permit owner, permit number, source from which the water was diverted (creek, stream, river, etc.), purpose of the water use, monthly and yearly amount in acre feet of use, number of acres irrigated (if used for irrigation), and location of irrigated land and types of crops planted. The earlier records may also include additional information for irrigation uses, such as dates of the irrigation season, number of users on the system, number of years the system was in use, and capacity of the main canal.

Memos and correspondence are abundant in the early years of the files. These items discuss changes of ownership of permits, water use records, permit use, complaints of wasteful use of water, requests for permit extensions re: construction projects; condition of water in reservoirs, stream flow and other water use issues, and improvements made or proposed for reservoirs, some involving the Works Progress Administration (WPA) or similar federally funded projects. Correspondents include the State Board of Water Engineers, the Texas Water Commission and successive water agencies; permit holders; WPA engineers or other engineers; water authorities; and people writing to complain about water use or to protest the issuance of a permit.

The field investigation reports concern various types of investigations, such as complaints of unauthorized water use. Field investigations were also done to investigate stream and flow conditions or to help permit owners establish two permanent stream flow reference markers, as were required by the permit. Tables are present in some of the files showing discharge amounts of water in cubic feet per second at specific stream flow markers. Other reports in the files include statistical reports on municipal water supplies and spreadsheets on reservoir operations over long periods. The spreadsheets document the maximum and minimum capacity of the reservoir, annual demand, inflow, area acres covered, evaporation loss, spills, etc.

Hearings held by the Water Rights Commission, or successive water agencies, concerning permit issuance are documented by the application and attachments, notices and orders for the hearing, letters to the agency protesting the issuance of the permit, exceptions filed by permit opponents, and clippings.

Other items of interest in these records include the water contracts, contracts between the permit owner and outside parties for water use; copies of warranty deeds submitted as proof of a change of permit ownership; and requests for permit extensions. These latter requests might concern construction of additional canals for irrigation purposes.

Photographs of dams, spillways, fuse plugs, water pumps, lakes, reservoirs, and river and creek beds are present, generally sent in as part of the application or possibly to accompany field reports. The photos largely consist of color or black and white snapshots often glued to a white sheet of paper with a note describing the image. A few oversize photos and some aerial photographs are also present. A variety of maps are present, such as topographic maps with features added. Items shown (or added to the maps) include the location of the water rights permit owner, stream flow markers, diversion points, tributaries of creeks and streams, dams, reservoirs, irrigation ditches, canals, and drainage areas. Generally only a few of the items are found on each map. Other maps found in these records include land use maps, sections and plans of reservoirs, plans of dam spillways, plats of irrigation ditches, and street maps. Maps consist of original black and white maps on linen, blueprint copies, black and white or color printed maps, and rolled Mylar sheets. The photographs and most maps were removed from the records and are housed separately. The items removed were not microfilmed with the other records.

Water rights or use permits are issued to regulate the use of state water, which is the surface water from rivers, streams, underflow, creeks, tides, lakes and every bay and arm of the Texas portion of the Gulf of Mexico. The records of water use for each permit provide an unbroken trail of water use, some extending to over 50 or 60 years. Field reports provide information about stream and flow conditions at given points in time.

Agency history and structure
Conservation and regulation of the state's water resources began early in the 20th century; regulation of air quality began in the early 1950s. In 1913, the Irrigation Act was passed by the 33rd Legislature (House Bill 37, Regular Session). It created the Texas Board of Water Engineers to establish and implement procedures for determining surface water rights. In 1917 a constitutional amendment to Article 16 authorized the creation of conservation and reclamation districts as needed. Freshwater supply districts were authorized by the 36th Legislature in 1919 (Senate Bill 19, 2nd Called Session) and the first river authority, the Brazos River Authority, was created in 1929 (House Bill 197, 41st Legislature, 2nd Called Session). A law governing the organization and operation of water improvement districts was passed in 1933 by the 43rd Legislature (House Bill 413, Regular Session). Underground water conservation districts were created in 1949 (House Bill 162, 51st Legislature, Regular Session). This legislation also declared groundwater (underground water) private property and authorized the State Board of Water Engineers to designate underground reservoirs and subdivisions thereto.

The Texas Department of Health initially had some regulation over water issues and it performed initial air quality studies for the state. Legislation was passed by the 49th Legislature in 1945 authorizing the Texas Department of Health to enforce drinking water standards for public water supply systems (Senate Bill 81, Regular Session), as part of an overall public health legislative initiative. In 1952 the Department of Health conducted the first air study in Texas and began an air sampling program in 1956.

Additional water conservation measures were enacted in 1957. The 55th Legislature created the Texas Water Development Board to forecast water supply needs and provide funding for water supply and conservation projects (House Bill 161, Regular Session). A water well drillers advisory group, the Water Well Drillers Board, was created in 1961 (House Bill 409, 57th Legislature, Regular Session). And, in 1962 the Texas Board of Water Engineers became the Texas Water Commission, with additional responsibilities for water conservation and pollution control (House Bill 12, 57th Legislature, 3rd Called Session).

Pollution and water control measures continued in 1961. The Texas Pollution Control Act was passed, which established the Texas State Water Pollution Control Board and eliminated the Water Pollution Advisory Council, creating the state's first true pollution control agency (House Bill 24, 57th Legislature, 1st Called Session). In 1965 the Texas Clean Air Act created the Texas Air Control Board, in the Department of Health, to monitor and regulate air pollution in the state (House Bill 362, 59th Legislature, Regular Session). Also in 1965, the Texas Water Commission became the Texas Water Rights Commission (Senate Bill 145, 59th Legislature, Regular Session) and functions not related to water rights were transferred to the Texas Water Development Board. And, the Water Well Drillers Act was passed in 1965 establishing the Water Well Drillers Board (House Bill 77, 59th Legislature, Regular Session). In 1967 the Texas Water Quality Act established the Texas Water Quality Board (Senate Bill 204, 60th Legislature, Regular Session). In 1973 the 63rd Legislature removed the Texas Air Control Board from the Department of Health, making it an independent state agency (House Bill 739, 63rd Legislature, Regular Session).

The 65th Legislature passed legislation in 1977 that made a number of changes in the state's water agencies. The Texas Department of Water Resources (TDWR) was created by combining the three existing water agencies in an effort to consolidate the state's water programs (the Texas Water Rights Commission, the Texas Water Quality Board, and the Texas Water Development Board) (Senate Bill 1139, Regular Session). A six-member board, the Texas Water Development Board, was set up as a policymaking body for the new agency. The Water Rights Commission was renamed the Texas Water Commission and sat as a quasi-judicial body that ruled on permits. The Texas Water Quality Board was abolished.

In 1985 the 69th Legislature dissolved the Texas Department of Water Resources (Senate Bill 249, Regular Session). It transferred regulatory enforcement to the recreated Texas Water Commission, and planning and financial responsibilities to the recreated Texas Water Development Board.

In 1991, the 72nd Legislature passed Senate Bill 2, 1st Called Session in an effort to consolidate the state's regulatory programs for air, water and waste. This began a two-year process of consolidation, culminating with the creation of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in 1993. In accordance with Senate Bill 2, sections of the Texas Department of Health dealing with solid waste, drinking water protection, and wastewater treatment were transferred to the Texas Water Commission (TWC) by March 1, 1992. On September 1, 1992, the Texas Water Well Drillers Board and the Texas Board of Irrigators were abolished and those functions transferred to the TWC. On September 1, 1993, the Texas Air Control Board and the Texas Water Commission were abolished and those functions were consolidated to form the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The Texas Water Commission became the core of the TNRCC and the TWC's three full-time commissioners automatically became the commissioners of the TNRCC. In 1997 the 75th Legislature transferred the regulation of water well drillers from the TNRCC to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (Senate Bill 1955, Regular Session). And, in 1999 the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority was abolished and its functions transferred to the TNRCC (House Bill 1172, 76th Legislature, Regular Session). Legislation in 2001 authorized a name change for the TNRCC. Effective September 1, 2002, it will become the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The TNRCC is governed by a three-member commission, appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate for overlapping six-year terms. Members may not serve more than two terms and conflict of interest restrictions apply. These are full-time salaried positions and the governor designates the chair. The commissioners establish overall agency direction and policy and make final determinations on contested permitting and enforcement matters.

The primary goals of the TNRCC are to protect public health and safety and the environment by reducing the release of pollutants and contaminants, regulating the management and disposal of waste, and expediting the cleanup of contaminated sites. The agency also manages the state's water resources by enforcing compliance with state and federal clean air and water laws.

The agency is divided into six major offices: the Office of Administrative Services; the Office of Compliance and Enforcement; the Office of the Executive Director; the Office of Legal Services; the Office of Permitting, Remediation and Registration; and the Office of Environmental Policy, Analysis, and Assessment. The TNRCC has approximately 3,000 employees, 16 regional offices, and a $511.5 million annual appropriated budget for the 2002 fiscal year.

The Office of Permitting, Remediation and Registration (OPRR) implements the federal and state laws and regulations governing all aspects of permitting for the air, water and waste programs; oversees the investigation and cleanup of hazardous pollutants released into the environment; registers and manages the reporting requirements for certain facilities; and implements the petroleum storage tank reimbursement program.

Within the OPRR, the Water Supply Division is responsible for the quantity and availability of water in Texas. Functions of this division include overseeing public drinking water protection by implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, providing source water assessment and protection for drinking water, providing oversight of water utilities and water districts, issuing water rights permits, providing support to interstate water compacts, developing Water Availability Models for the river basins of Texas, serving as state coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program, evaluating water conservation plans and drought contingency plans, and managing the Water Utility Database.

Historical sketch of water use issues
Water flowing in Texas creeks, rivers, and bays is state water. This surface water is public property. The state does confer on individuals and organizations the right to pump water from a stream, creek, pond or lake, or to impound water in a lake or pond. In almost all cases, surface waters may only be used with explicit permission of the state, with livestock and household use exempted if persons living adjacent to a stream or river divert the water. These persons can use the water for household needs, or irrigating a yard or garden, or impound in stock tanks up to 200 acre-feet of water. County and rural fire departments and other similar services may divert and use state water from streams and reservoirs for emergency use without a permit.

State law requires a water rights document for all other uses of surface water. A water rights document does not guarantee the water will always be available, but some types of documents provide more certainty than do others. Water rights documents are known as permits, term permits, temporary permits, and certificates of adjudication.

The certificates of adjudication are issued after a hearing is held to determine the validity of water rights (use) claims submitted. This process was begun in 1967 by the Texas Water Rights Commission. The Commission looked at claims of prior use in setting up a foundation for the current water rights system in Texas. Claimants had to prove that they used a certain amount of water from a specific stretch of a river, stream or reservoir. State district courts reviewed all the claims and the Commission's recommendations for their disposition. Certificates were issued for approved claims. Each certificate was issued a priority date, indicating when the water use first occurred. Since 1967 Texas has adjudicated about 10,000 claims. The process is complete except in the Upper Rio Grande Basin, near El Paso, where 15 claims are being adjudicated at this time.

Water rights or use permits are granted by the TNRCC if water is available in the area requested. The State Board of Water Engineers issued the first permits in 1913 or 1914. Permits are issued in perpetuity. They may be bought and sold like other interests. Before new permits are issued, the TNRCC examines the proposed monthly demand and the monthly flows (in a river) or levels (in a reservoir) over a period of time, decades if possible. If the historical record suggests that most of the water being requested will be available most of the time, the TNRCC grants the permit. Term permits may be issued for a specific amount of time, usually 10 years, in basins where waters are fully appropriated but not yet being fully used. The term permits are issued primarily to industrial, mining, and agricultural enterprises. Temporary permits are issued for up to three years. These are issued mainly for road construction projects, some are also issued for mining and irrigation uses.

The state has issued about 6,500 water rights documents. Most of these documents grant "run-of-the-river" rights, meaning users can divert water only when stream flow levels are sufficient.

The files are arranged by application number, thereby in a rough chronological order as the application numbers were assigned successively. Denied, cancelled, withdrawn, returned or dismissed applications are not in this series, so there are gaps in the numbering system. Those files are maintained in other series at the agency. Within the files I reviewed it was common to file the approved water rights permit at the beginning of the file. Remaining documents tended to be in roughly reverse chronological order, at least in the earlier files.

Access constraints: None.

Use constraints: None.

Indexes or finding aids required for/or an aid to access? A database to active and inactive permits and a water use database is available at the agency's Internet site at and at the agency -

Folders were removed during the microfilming process; microfilm separation sheets were inserted at the beginning of each folder. A number of the early files contain documents written in pencil which did not microfilm well. In the records reviewed for the appraisal (2 boxes of early materials out of 60 or more) there were several of these, especially the first page of a stack of penciled sheets (notes, report, etc.), that had "Poor Document Quality" stamped on the page, indicating it, and presumably successive pencilled sheets, did not film well. In at least one case the stamp was placed over writing on the page, obscuring writing beneath it. Very light typewritten pages were stamped poor document quality as well. There were also a number of different colored forms - yellows, greens, light and dark blues. I do not know how well they filmed, especially the darker ones.

Known related records in other agencies: None known.

Previous Destructions
No destruction requests have been filed by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission or its predecessors for these particular series.

Publications based on records: None known.

Internet pages based on records:
This page provides information about the water rights process and provides access to the water rights database and the water use database -

Series data from agency schedule. There are three series of records in these files listed on the retention schedule of the agency:
Title: Water rights process documentation
Series item number: none
Agency item number: 6820.09
Archival code: R
Retention: PM

Title: Water rights process documentation - oversize documents, maps and photographs
Series item number: none
Agency item number: 6820.10
Archival code:
Retention: AV+30

Title: Water use permits (applications)
Series item number: none
Agency item number: 6820.13
Archival code:
Retention: PM

Archives Holdings
None from this particular series are in the archives. Related holdings include:

Texas Water Commission, Minutes, 1913-1986, 7.77 cubic ft.
This accession contains minutes of the State Board of Water Engineers, the Texas Water Rights Commission, and the Texas Water Commission, dating 1913-1986.

Texas Water Resources Commission, Reclamation Engineer, Historical files, ca. 1910-ca. 1960, 89 cubic ft.
There are correspondence, reports, maps, drawings, field notebooks, and other records of various reclamation projects, including work done prior to or after some dams and reservoirs were built, dating ca. 1910-ca. 1960.

Texas Documents Collection holdings: None known.

Gaps: None known.

Appraisal decision:
The water rights records provide a historical record of water use by permit holders, including types of uses made and the amount used, they also document stream flow conditions and the regulation of the use of state water. Also documented in the records are some of the improvements made to reservoirs over the years, especially through WPA projects. The files provide a non-broken record of permit holders. The records are considered to be permanent at the TNRCC. Before new permits are issued, the TNRCC examines the proposed monthly demand and the monthly flows (in a river) or levels (in a reservoir) over a period of time, decades if possible. The historical record of water use is archival. It is necessary to maintain it for the conservation of water resources and the regulation of surface water.

I recommend these records be appraised as archival. Most of the files have recently been microfilmed, except for photographs, oversize items, and maps larger than 11 x 14 inches, which is most of the maps. They were filmed according to accepted archival quality standards, but there were enough really light documents that were stamped as "Poor Document Quality" to warrant keeping the paper records, in my opinion. Also, documents through the years appear on different colored paper, some of it quite dark which may not film well either; and maps, oversize, and photographs were not filmed and were separated from the records. Staff in the records services area asked us to appraise these for archival value and would like us to keep the paper records. In addition to the age of the early records, the staff are concerned about the legibility of early files on the microfilm, especially since many were written in pencil or consist of pages of light typewriter carbon paper that did not film very legibly.

I strongly recommend the paper records, plus the photographs and maps be transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division at the agency's earliest convenience. I realize these records have been microfilmed, but I still feel the paper records should be maintained because of the age of the files and the fact that too many "poor document quality" documents are present and did not film well. The archival code on the schedule needs to be "A" for each series of the three series reviewed.

If we do not take the paper records, a note needs to be added to the schedule - "If the agency determines not to maintain this microfilm permanently, the film is to be transferred, along with any oversize materials not filmed, to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission." Since the agency did not film the photos or oversize materials, if we do not take the paper records, we request the agency transfer the photos and oversize materials to the Texas.

Note: The Archives appraisal staff appraised these records as archival and requested their transfer to the State Archives in August 2002.

Page last modified: August 31, 2011