Background: Plants respond to abiotic stress on physiological, biochemical and molecular levels. This includes a global change in their cellular proteome achieved by changes in the pattern of their protein synthesis and degradation. The ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is a key player in protein degradation in eukaryotes. Proteins are marked for degradation by the proteasome by coupling short chains of ubiquitin polypeptides in a three-step pathway. The last and regulatory stage is catalyzed by a member of a large family of substrate-specific ubiquitin ligases. Results: We have identified AtPUB46 and AtPUB48-two paralogous genes that encode ubiquitin ligases (E3s)-to have a role in the plant environmental response. The AtPUB46, -47, and -48 appear as tandem gene copies on chromosome 5, and we present a phylogenetic analysis that traces their evolution from an ancestral PUB-ARM gene. Single homozygous T-DNA insertion mutants of AtPUB46 and AtPUB48 displayed hypersensitivity to water stress; this was not observed for similar mutants of AtPUB47. Although the three genes show a similar spatial expression pattern, the steady state levels of their transcripts are differentially affected by abiotic stresses and plant hormones. Conclusions:AtPUB46 and AtPUB48 encode plant U-Box E3s and are involved in the response to water stress. Our data suggest that despite encoding highly homologous proteins, AtPUB46 and AtPUB48 biological activity does not fully overlap. © 2017 The Author(s).