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Groundwater Bill Closer To Governor's Desk

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News.
A groundwater bill making its way out of the Texas Legislature could be used in the future to make some water rights points in court.

The groundwater bill is closer to becoming a law. The Texas House passed SB 332, which states that a property owner also owns the groundwater beneath their land. The bill goes back to the Senate for a final vote before it goes to Governor Rick Perry.

In terms of land and water issues, this was one of the bills to watch this session. The Texas Supreme Court is sitting on a case right now, Burrell and Day v. Edwards Aquifer Authority, that epitomizes the fight over who really owns the groundwater in the land and who can manage it. Some people suspected the state’s high court wouldn’t make a decision on the case until the Texas Legislature acts.

The issues has drawn clear lines in the battle over who controls groundwater.  Here are statements released by two different organizations:

Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association

SB 332 clarifies that landowners own the groundwater below their land as real property. The bill entitles landowners to drill for and produce the groundwater below their land without waste. It recognizes that this private property right may be regulated, like other private property rights, to protect and conserve groundwater, and it ensures fair and impartial regulation of a landowner’s rights in groundwater. 

Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club:

Admittedly many people view the bill as just a restatement of the current situation regarding landowner rights and groundwater district powers, which somewhat begs the question why groups pushing the bill even care about its passage now. Fortunately those groups totally failed in their attempt to get a bill through the House to establish a “vested” right of groundwater ownership. Assuming that the Senate concurs in the House version of the bill or that a conference committee accepts the basics of the House language, the jettisoning of the concept of a “vested” right to groundwater is a major positive outcome, rejecting any absolute right of ownership that would have thoroughly undermined necessary management of groundwater resources by districts.

Because the bill both says a landowner owns the groundwater, and that groundwater districts can regulate groundwater production, it may be up to the State Supreme Court to decide who controls the groundwater.