Groundwater Permits & Rights
Understanding & Defending Your Groundwater Access in TX
Groundwater from underground rivers and aquifers supply approximately 60% of Texas’ usable water supply. Texas officially recognizes 9 major aquifers and 21 minor aquifers. Numerous other aquifers across the state provide small water supplies to homeowners, farmers, ranchers, and other businesses.
Texas is the only state in which landowners privately own groundwater. They have rights to the groundwater beneath their surface estate, and they can produce as much of it as they can for beneficial use. Owners of groundwater rights may also sell or lease those rights to others.
This doctrine is known as the ‘absolute right of ownership of groundwater’ and it was recently upheld in the case of Sipriano v. Great Springs Waters of Am., Inc., more commonly known as the Ozarka case. In fact, the ‘rule of capture’ shields groundwater-producing owners from damages if their neighbors’ wells run dry.
Scarcity Concerns and Groundwater Conservation Districts
While groundwater rights allow property owners and business operators to work and produce without excessive restrictions, Texas groundwater is becoming scarce. According to research from sources like NASA, this decline will likely continue in the next few decades. Meanwhile, demands on groundwater supplies are steadily increasing, and this limited resource must be managed to balance environmental concerns with the socio-economic needs of the state.
Groundwater conservation districts (GCDs) are one of the state’s major solutions to this issue. If your area is not within a GCD, you can drill water wells of any size in any location (within your property boundaries), and you can pump a practically unlimited amount of water for beneficial use.
Property within GCDs, however, are subject to a host of groundwater regulations that vary depending on each specific GCD.
Here are just a few of those regulatory methods:
- Well-spacing requirements
- Water production limits
- Imposed taxes on the volume of produced water
Occasionally, a GCD may go too far in its regulation, or it may fail to follow the required procedures. In these instances, water rights owners may need to identify and assert rights against a GCD.
At McPherson Law Firm PLLC, we are ready to help you advocate for:
- Due process
- Equal protection
- Specific rights in state law (Texas Water Code Chapter 36)
- Unconstitutional ‘taking’ of a water right
- Inverse condemnation of a water right
- Open meetings
- Public information/open records
Successfully working with a GCD takes an in-depth understanding of how that particular GCD operates. To that end, our attorney regularly attends board meetings of the GCDs in our area, but we also encourage groundwater rights owners to participate in the rulemaking processes themselves. You can get to know the general manager and board members of your respective GCD and advocate for your rights and needs.
Groundwater Management Areas
In 2001, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) divided Texas into 16 different groundwater management areas (GMAs), and the GCDs in each area must jointly plan resource management in their respective GMA.
In creating GMAs, the TWDB’s objective was to delineate areas considered suitable for groundwater resource management. Ideally, a GMA coincides with the boundaries of a groundwater reservoir or a subdivision of a groundwater reservoir, but it may follow political subdivisions instead.
What many don’t understand is that GMAs are not legal entities. They are areas drawn by the TWDB pursuant to statutory requirements. Therefore, they have no budgets, officers, or governing boards of their own. However, most groundwater planning occurs at GMA 8 meetings with GCD representatives. Activities at this regional level are governed by the Texas Water Code as well as certain regulations promulgated by the TWDB and TCEQ.
Dallas-Fort Worth is in GMA 8, which includes the following 11 GCDs:
- North Texas
- Upper Trinity
- Middle Trinity
- Northern Trinity
- Southern Trinity
- Red River
- Post Oak Savannah
- Central Texas
- Saratoga District
Because these regional groundwater management area organizations are not legal entities, navigating the nuances between each area’s set of regulations may be a challenge. At McPherson Law Firm PLLC, we have decades of experience helping Texas landowners maintain access and rights to groundwater. We stay actively involved in the operations of both GCDs and GMAs in order to ensure you have the representation and advocacy you need.
Get in Touch with Us for Personalized Support
As the demand for groundwater increases beyond available supply, preserving your rights and successful business operations becomes exceedingly difficult. Put 30+ years of experience in your corner by enlisting the support of Attorney Mark McPherson.