Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs)
In Texas, groundwater is privately owned, and an owner can produce as much of it as they can beneficially use. 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., 1 S.W.3d 75 (Tex. 1991), more commonly known as the Ozarka case. If neighboring wells go dry as someone produces their groundwater, the ‘rule of capture’ shields the producing owner from damages.
Statewide, groundwater resources supply approximately 60% of Texas’ usable water supply. Groundwater moves in underground rivers or aquifers. 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.
There is a finite amount of groundwater in Texas, and that amount is difficult to accurately quantify. We rely heavily on very sophisticated models to predict how much groundwater is in an aquifer, and these models can change over time. But demands on groundwater supplies are steadily increasing, and this limited resource must be managed to balance environmental concerns with the socio-economic needs of Texas.
The Texas Water Code states that groundwater conservation districts (GCDs) are the state’s preferred method of groundwater management. State law allows these GCDs some discretion in how they regulate groundwater. But occasionally, a GCD may go too far in its regulation, or a GCD may fail to follow required procedures as it operates. In those instances, water rights owners may need to identify and assert rights against a GCD, including but not limited to rights based on:
- 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 understanding of how that particular GCD operates. To that end, I occasionally attend the board meetings of the GCDs in my area. I highly recommend that groundwater rights owners participate in the rulemaking process of their GCD, and that they get to know the general manager and board members of their respective GCD.
Visit our Hot Topics-GCDs page where you will find information about Texas groundwater laws and regulations, each GCD in Groundwater Management Area 8, and how groundwater relates to the bigger picture of Texas’ state water planning. Also visit our Hot Topics-Drought page for drought-related information.