In mid-February, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) contacted Mason County and the City of Mason, notifying both parties that the agency was considering the creation of a watermaster for the Colorado River Basin.
According to documents sent with TCEQ's letter, a watermaster is responsible for monitoring water levels and flows, and water use within the basin. Permit holders would be required to report planned use or releases of their water, and they would be required to meter all water use. During times of diminished water flow, the watermaster would allocate available water among the users according to each user's priority dates. In situations where a right-holder does not comply with the water right or TCEQ rules, the watermaster may adjust pumps and devices to prevent the owner from using any water to which they are not entitled. Right holders would be required to pay a share of the costs associated with employing and officing the watermaster.
During a special meeting on February 2nd, Mason County's Commissioners' Court discussed their response to TCEQ's letter. During that discussion, a number of concerns were raised, and the general attitude of the Court was not favorable to creation of a watermaster position. Among the issues discussed:
• The costs of a watermaster continues every year, regardless of the amount of work they perform or the need for their services.
• All users would be required to install, at their own cost, a metering system.
• Any portion of water rights not used for ten consecutive years would be subject to cancellation (this is already the case; but, is not closely monitored).
• All unappropriated water would become the property of LCRA.
• No water can be used without filing notices of intent, schedule of diversion, and approval from the watermaster for the diversion.
• The watermaster may determine that no diversions be made without prior approval in certain areas.
• Establishment of a watermaster will increase the frequency with which irrigation rights will be suspended based on complaints by riparian domestic and livestock users who do not own permitted water rights.
• Urban priorities and needs could concievably outweigh water needs of rural, agricultural users resulting in lower allocations or complete loss of water rights to rural dwellers.
After the discussion, the Court voted unanimously to issue a resolution opposing the creation of a watermaster in the basin. The resolution cited many of the concerns brought up during their discussion.
On February 12th, the City of Mason Commission met in regular session and also discussed the issue. They also felt the negative aspects of the program outweighed any positive benefits to the residents of Mason County and the City of Mason. They then unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the watermaster, in language almost identical to that used by Mason County.
Similar resolutions or shows or opposition have been passed in Gillespie, Kimble, McCulloch and San Saba counties, with the notable exception of Llano County and the City of Llano. It is no coincidence that Llano is a senior permit holder in the basin, and that they experienced severe water problems during the summer and fall of 2011 when drought conditions dropped Llano water levels to dangerously low levels.
Citizens in the area are encouraged to look at the merits and drawbacks of the watermaster appointment, and after drawing their own conclusions, to contact the authorities involved in the decision making process. That would include TCEQ, State Senator Troy Fraser, and State Representative Harvey Hildebran. The decision making process continues for a short time longer, offering citizens the ability to make their own opinions part of the process.
Manager, Watermaster Section (MC-160)PO Box 13087Austin, TX 78711-3087
The Honorable Troy Fraser
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
Rep. Harvey Hildebran
Room CAP GW.12, Capitol
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768