Will Water Rights Decision Open Floodgate of Similar Lawsuits?

Feb 24, 2012

The perennial issue of Texas water rights may soon reach a boiling point.

Today, the Texas Supreme Court handed down a ruling stating property owners can be compensated for water underneath their property, if a limit has been placed on the amount they can pump by a water authority.

KUT’s Mose Buchele, reporting for StateImpact Texas, writes:

 The Edwards Aquifer Authority and the State of Texas, V Burrell Day and Joel McDaniel, centered on whether property owners could be compensated if a water authority limited the amount of groundwater they could pull from their land.

The decision found that Ranchers Burrell Day and Joel McDaniel could be compensated by groundwater regulations from the Edwards Aquifer Authority. This means that other landowners in Texas could seek compensation in similar cases. 

The Texas Tribune says the decision is garnering a mixed reaction, and may create numerous additional lawsuits:

Landowner groups were happy with the ruling, which they said balances private property rights with reasonable regulation. "We're pretty pleased," said Billy Howe, a representative of the Texas Farm Bureau. 

But environmental groups are concerned. The ruling "injects huge uncertainty" into a recovery program in the Edwards Aquifer Area, aimed at maintaining certain levels of spring flows and helping endangered species, said Myron Hess of the National Wildlife Federation.

Tom Mason, of the Austin law firm Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, said the ruling was likely to lead to more litigation. "Landowners with wells may be encouraged by this and want to challenge groundwater district regulations, particularly in the Edwards Aquifer Authority," he said. Meanwhile, as the courts consider the implications of the ruling, groundwater districts "may be a little less inclined to regulate as vigorously as before," Mason said.

You can read the Supreme Court opinion online.