Private Groundwater Rights in Jeopardy
Last month, the Texas Supreme Court heard verbal arguments in a case involving the Edwards Aquifer Authority, the final ruling of which may have landowners losing ownership rights of the water beneath their land.
For the past 100 years, Texas courts have consistently recognized landowners’ ownership of the water beneath their land. If the Texas Supreme Court doesn’t act to preserve the rights of landowners, Texans could lose this right.
Lee County Judge Paul Fischer said, “We are aware of property owners leasing their water rights to water marketers in our county to ship water outside of Lee County, and even though we are fearful of depleting our aquifer, we do not want to lose the right to the water underneath our own land.”
Earlier this month, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said, “Last November, Texans voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 11, an amendment that prohibits the government from acquiring land for non-public use. Texans also expect similar rights when it comes to owning and controlling the groundwater beneath their land.”
“However, the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) is proposing a law change that would leave existing and future groundwater users with little or no ability to protect their investments or rights.”
“Last month, the Texas Supreme Court heard verbal arguments in the case of EAA and the State of Texas v. Burrell Day and Joel McDaniel. If the court supports the EAA’s position, landowners may lose ownership rights of the water beneath their own land - something that could be particularly damaging to Texas farmers and ranchers. As a result I filed a letter of amicus curiae supporting landowners’ vested property rights in their water.”
Commissioner Staples continued, “According to USDA’s 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Study, more than 12,000 Texas farms irrigate more than five million acres of crops annually. Specific to groundwater, almost 80,000 irrigation wells provide water to approximately 9,000 farms across the state.”
“For the past 100 years, Texas courts have consistently recognized landowners’ ownership of groundwater beneath their land. If the Texas Supreme Court doesn’t act to preserve the rights of landowners, Texas agriculture and the Texas economy will be negatively impacted.”
This important topic will likely take center stage this next legislative session. This precious resource must be managed properly to ensure that landowners are respected.