Friday, January 14, 2011

Water Wars Could Heat to a Boil

While headlines during this legislative session will be filled with budget woes and redistricting tales, a strong undercurrent that may not be as visible is the flowing dialogue over water.

A case currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court, Edwards Aquifer Authority and the State of Texas v. Burrell Day and Joel McDaniel, has us all neck-deep in a quandary. The source of concern is the petitioners’ assertion that landowners have no right to access the water beneath their property. Believe me, this is not a debate about the cup being half-empty or half-full. This is a major issue that not only could erode a landowner’s long-established rights, but also could decrease his or her property values and undermine such investments as irrigation pumps and water wells.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, recently filed Senate Bill 332, which if passed, would clearly state that landowners have a vested ownership interest in the groundwater beneath their property. Many in agriculture and other landowner groups strongly support this clarification and have established to help organize and focus their mission.

Recently, however, the Lower Colorado Regional Water Planning Group (LCRWPG) and some groundwater conservation districts from across the state adopted a resolution that takes a different approach. This group says landowners should have a protected right to water only after it is pumped. The LCRWPG resolution argues that allowing landowners to access, or pump, the water beneath their property makes it difficult for groundwater conservation districts to manage water supplies in our aquifers, and will make districts vulnerable to lawsuits from disgruntled landowners.

We need to remember that no one, and I mean know one, has more of a vested interest in protecting our natural resources than farmers and ranchers. They know they have to take care of the land for it to be productive enough to supply the necessary items to feed and clothe our world. So while I strongly support local management of ground water resources, I also strongly believe a landowner should have a recognized interest in the water beneath his/her property. Otherwise, what would keep an outside entity from taking it without consideration of the impact to the landowner? Surely, we can find common ground and all keep our heads above water.

I look forward to the hearings on Sen. Fraser’s bill. Put your life jacket on because this water ride is likely to be rough.

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