Landowners own the groundwater beneath the surface estate, and a landowner may use as much of that groundwater as it can capture and then use for beneficial use. Owners of groundwater rights may also sell or lease those rights to others. Texas is the only state in the US to recognize the private ownership of groundwater.
Texas groundwater is becoming more scarce. To the right is an illustration indicating how much decline is predicted for Texas’ aquifers from 2000 to 2050.
NASA has recently contributed to the scientific knowledge of groundwater declines, taking satellite images showing groundwater concentrations. The NASA GRACE-based satellite image to the left shows declines in groundwater storage.
GROUNDWATER CONSERVATION DISTRICTS
Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCD) are the state’s preferred method of groundwater management. GCDs cover most of the aquifers in Texas and are shown by the shaded areas on the graphic to the right. In areas of the state that are not in a GCD (the white areas), water wells can be drilled anywhere, of any size, and one can pump a practically unlimited amount of water for beneficial use. But in areas within a GCD, the GCD may implement well spacing requirements, limit water production, and impose taxes on the volume of water produced, among other things. The 2011 combined budgets of the GCDs in Texas (i.e. taxes collected by GCDs) exceeded $45 million.
GCDs are governed by Texas Water Code Chapter 36, and the statute that created them, and their own management plan and rules. GCDs regulate most but not all wells. Some wells are exempt, partially or wholly, and there are limitations on, and exceptions to, the exemptions. Regulated wells are referred to as “non-exempt wells” and exempt wells are referred to as “exempt wells.”
GROUNDWATER MANAGEMENT AREAS
Texas is divided into 16 different groundwater management areas (GMAs) as depicted to the right, and the GCDs in each area must jointly plan resource management in their respective area. Dallas-Fort Worth is in GMA 8. For official Texas Water Development Board information about GMA 8, click here.