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SB 332: Relating to the vested ownership interest in groundwater beneath the surface and the right to produce that groundwater.


In the first few days of the 2011 Texas legislative session, a bill was filed that could affect groundwater availability and the flow of springs and streams throughout the Hill Country.

After much debate an amended version of SB 332 passed the house late in the evening during the final days of the legislative session. An analysis of this controversial legislation including who supports it, who opposes it and what concerns remain can be read here. The bottom line is that precious groundwater resources, below the land are being recognized by the state of Texas as the landowners "real property".

Senate Bill (SB) 332 addresses the significant issue of groundwater rights and groundwater regulation. This is not a simple issue; we all need to look carefully and consider what’s best for rural landowners who become vulnerable when significant water resources are sold and shipped elsewhere. We need to consider what’s best for our region, a unique place blessed with flowing springs and creeks that are often dependent on aquifers, and a region which is experiencing a very high rate of growth in a fragile rural landscape.

The property right individual landowners have to groundwater has a long legal history in Texas and is intimately tied to our state water planning processes and regulatory structure. Because these issues are complicated and nuanced, any change in statutory language could have significant effects on groundwater use, regulation and planning throughout the Hill Country and the rest of Texas. These issues can also be very controversial, especially in a region that relies so heavily on groundwater. Because of the uncertain legal consequences of this proposed legislation, we urge our leadership to be very cautious.

HCA has gathered ideas and resources to help Hill Country citizens understand groundwater rights and SB 332. Click here to read HCA's issue paper regarding the current regulatory environment and the changes SB 332, as introduced, would make. For more information about groundwater resources in the Hill Country click here.


Resources

Texas Wildlife Association Testimony on SB 332 and SB667 - Joesph Fitzsimons testimony on SB 332 before the Senate Natural Resource Committee.
The Fallacy of Vested Groundwater Ownership - Bringing science to the SB332 debate, by hydrologists Rene Barker and Raymond Slade, Jr.
Groundwater Call to Action - A GWPC report
Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District - Testimony given March 1, 2011
Coastal Bend GCD Testimony - given March 1, 2011
Rice Producers handout - Reason’s to oppose SB 332
SB 332 bill text
Groundwater Ownership - Issue paper developed by a coalition of organizations pushing SB 332
Ground Water Legislation in the 82nd Texas Legislature - National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club Groundwater position paper
Who owns the Water, A primer on Texas groundwater law and spring flow - An excellent overview written by Ronald Kaiser and published in Texas the State of Springs in 2005
Landowners’ Rights in Texas Groundwater: How and Why Texas Courts Should Determine Landowners Do Not Own Groundwater in Place - Baylor Law Review article by Susana Elena Canseco
Texas Groundwater Issues: Ownership Rights and Regulation 2010 - The perspective of the primary groups advocating for SB 332; Texas Wildlife Association, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Farm Bureau
Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts position paper for the 82nd Legislature
Environmental Defense Blog, “The Legislature Plunges into the Groundwater Ownership Fray”
South Llano Watershed Alliance - An informational resource on groundwater.

Resolutions opposing SB 332:

Pecan Valley Groundwater Conservation District
Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District
Region K Resolution on Groundwater Management
Coastal Bend Groundwater Conservation District
Resolution of the Texas Rice Producers Legislative Group - Resolution regarding vested groundwater ownership and sutainable groundwater management.


News

March 19, 2012

High Court Rules That Landowner Rights Also Include Groundwater

"The purpose of a district, in my opinion, is to prevent harm that the rule of capture would allow and to try to the best of their ability to create sustainable aquifer production. The goal as much as possible should be one of sustainability." Read more from Livestock Weekly.

Texas Farmers Battle Ogallala Pumping Limits

“Texas is virtually the only state that functions by the “rule of capture,” which allows landowners to pump essentially unlimited amounts of water. Elsewhere in the U.S., groundwater is a public resource, and the state allows people to use the resource.” Read more from Texas Tribune.

March 5, 2012

Taking a Deeper Look at the Texas Supreme Court’s Ruling on Water

Exactly how (the decision) will change the game is what everyone is trying to figure out. The case clearly established two things. First, that landowners legally own the groundwater underneath their land, and second, that landowners may be owed compensation if state or local regulations go too far in limiting the amount of groundwater landowners can pull. Beyond that things start to get a little murky. Read more from NPR.

February 28 2012

Groundwater ruling potentially unleashes geyser of future cases

Prompted by the severity of the current drought, Texans have been earnestly discussing how to manage the state's water resources for the next several decades to meet the needs of a growing population and dynamic economy. This necessary discussion must now consider last week's ruling on property rights and groundwater by the Texas Supreme Court and how it potentially threatens efforts to regulate and conserve aquifers. The court unanimously ruled Friday that property owners own the water beneath their land just as surely as they own the oil and gas. Read more from Statesman.com.

February 24, 2012

Texas Supreme Court Rules For Landowners in Water Case

In a case with potentially vast implications for groundwater rules in Texas, the Texas Supreme Court has unanimously ruled in favor of two farmers in the San Antonio area who challenged the local aquifer authority's sharp restrictions on their use of a water well on their land. Read more from Texas Tribune. More on groundwater planning here.

June 10, 2011

Water Policy in Texas Legislature Rode on One Word

With the Big Dry upon us, the longstanding fight over the water percolating under the surface in nine major and 20 minor underground aquifers was bound to get contentious before the end of the 82nd legislative session. And it did, at least for a while, because of a single word. Read full Texas Tribune article here.

May 27, 2011

Groundwater Rights bill is on its way to the Governor

The Texas Senate concurred with the House version of SB 332, a best attempt to balance what started out known as the “vested rights” legislation. Many fear the bill will generate more lawsuits and financial strain for Groundwater Conservation Districts. Time will tell. “Texas needs to come to grips with the need to manage our groundwater resources on a sustainable basis for future generations. Ultimately a landowner can’t build a fence around a natural resource such as groundwater. It’s a shared resource even if a landowner has certain rights to the use of that resource” Ken Kramer, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club, statement here. More on this issue here.

May 24, 2011

Groundwater Bill on its way

The groundwater bill is closer to becoming a law. The Texas House passed SB 332, which states that a property owner also owns the groundwater beneath their land. Read KUT news report here. Read an analysis of the legislation including who supports it, who opposes it and what concerns remain here.

Harris: Don't let legislators set back hard-won groundwater conservation efforts

Texas is suffering from a drought that is throwing our groundwater conservation districts and landowners into crisis. Legislature is poised to pass CSSB 332, which could cripple our groundwater conservation districts' ability to conserve water, preserve and protect the hydrological cycle and come to grips with Texas' recurrent drought conditions. Read more from Statesman.com here.

The Great Groundwater Grab

Texas is suffering from a drought that is throwing our groundwater conservation districts and landowners into crisis. Sadly, our legislature is poised to pass a bill known as CSSB 332 that could cripple or even destroy the groundwater management system previously put into place. Read more

April 6, 2011

Controversy swirls around water bill at hearing

A controversial groundwater bill before state representatives late Tuesday either promised the calamitous end of groundwater regulation or simply stated the obvious. Read full Lubbock Online article here.

Texas Lawmakers Discuss Controversial Groundwater Bill

"Water is a finite resource. It is the most precious resource that this state is charged with conserving," said Ritter, the committee chairman, as he introduced the bill. Read the full Texas Tribune article here.

April 5, 2011

Texas lawmakers debate water property rights

A state custom that gives landowners the rights to groundwater beneath their land still sparks controversy more than a century after its inception. Read the full Houston Chronical article here.

House must slow groundwater bill

"The legislation appears to be a step away from the comprehensive water planning procedures that lawmakers have been working on for the last 20 years." Read the SA Express-News editorial here.

March 31, 2011

Senate votes to make groundwater a vested right

The Texas Senate approved a bill Yesterday that would establish groundwater as a vested right protected by the state Constitution. For the bill's sponsor, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, its passage is a clarification of state law and an assurance to landowners that they have the right to the water below their property. For groundwater and subsidence districts across the state, the bill, approved 28-3, is a threat to the management of one of the state's most limited resources. Read full SA Express-News article here.

March 31, 2011

Senate Passes SB 332

The Texas Senate passed a much-discussed piece of groundwater legislation, voting 28-3 to approve a bill stating that landowners in the state have a "vested ownership interest" in the groundwater beneath their land...Texas Tribune report.
More on Hill Country Groundwater.

March 30, 2011

Texas Senate passes groundwater legislation

The Texas Senate reaffirmed Wednesday the rule of capture, a century-old state custom that says landowners have a right to groundwater underneath their land. Read the full Star-Telegram article here.

Groundwater proposal gets a compromise – Serious concerns are still alive

KUT covered the story yesterday, “It’s a critical time for groundwater districts right now”. Read or listen to the story here. Sierra Club released a statement today still opposing the bill, “The Legislature would be subjecting virtually every action by a groundwater district to a potential “takings” claim. Full media release - For history and resources about SB 332 click here.

March 4, 2011

Texas Debates Who Owns Its Water

Read the Texas Tribune article here.

March 1, 2011

Who Owns Texas' Groundwater?

Read the Texas Observer article here.

Febrary 9, 2011

Ranchers lock horns over groundwater

Read the Warton Journal Spectator article here.

February 3, 2011

District wary of senate bill

Read the article from the Bastrop Adviser here.

Janurary 19, 2011

Grassroots fight for local water control takes shape

Read the article from Bastrop Adviser here.

Jaunuary 14, 2011

Landowner groups support Fraser ground water legislation

Read the North Texas E-News article here.

January 12, 2011

Groundwater bill gives property rights groups a leg up

Read the Statesman.com article here.

Texas Senator files bill to clarify homeowner’s groundwater rights

Read article from Star-Telegram.com here.

January 5, 2011

Groundwater ownership can be a Trojan Horse

Read article from the Smithville Times here.

Letter to the editor

Read a letter to the editor written by Mike Organ, President of the Bastrop-Lee County Farm Bureau here.

The Latest News

City Wastewater Discharge May Threaten Clear-running Creeks and Water Wells

Some water experts believe Hill Country clear-running creeks and streams may soon be a thing of the past if cities are permitted to discharge treated wastewater directly into creeks such as Onion Creek. Water wells may also become contaminated. Read More

Keeping Rivers Flowing: Innovative Strategies to Protect and Restore Rivers - Starts April 30

"Keeping Rivers Flowing" is a free three-part webinar series designed to inform interested persons about strategies to ensure the future health of Texas' rivers, bays and estuaries. Drawing on practical experience from here in Texas and around the world, speakers will discuss innovative approaches for ensuring that rivers, bays and estuaries continue to get the flow needed to protect water quality and support healthy fish and wildlife populations. Learn More

Common Misperceptions Regarding Land and Wildlife Management in Central Texas

There’s a lot of bad information floating around in the Hill Country regarding land management, in addition to a lot of good information. Sometimes it is difficult to sort out the bad from the good. Misinformation can come from a variety of sources – the coffee shop, the feed store, magazine articles, well meaning neighbors and even natural resource professionals. By clarifying some of the common misperceptions, people will be able to make better decisions regarding natural resources. Steve’s writings are timeless. Read more from Steve Nelle and educate your neighbors.

Join HCA at Upcoming Bennett Trust Education Program: Protecting the Legacy of the Edwards Plateau

The Bennett Trust will host its first ever land stewardship and education conference April 23-25 in Kerrville. Wyman Meinzer, state photographer of Texas, will deliver the keynote address on the history and legacy of the Edwards Plateau. Attendees will also have the opportunity to visit local ranches, vineyards and orchards to learn more about sustainable practices in horticulture, forage production and wildlife management. Learn More

TWDB opens SWIFT for public comment

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has opened their State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) rules making process for public comment. Participation in the rules making process is critical to ensure that the intentions of the State Legislature are carried out in the long-term administration of the State’s SWIFT funds. The HCA has submitted a list of recommendations to the TWDB that will help ensure spring and stream-flow sustainability in the Hill Country.

PEC Candidate Forum April 24th in Johnson City

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) is hosting a candidates forum for two board of director seats up for election this year. The meeting will be held 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24 at PEC Headquarters, 201 S. Ave. F in Johnson City. The event will also include discussion of a ballot referendum on whether to switch to single-member district elections for board directors. Learn more about the candidates from the San Marcos Mercury. Learn more about the process and forum from the PEC.

Sky Lewey, HCA Board Member receives Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Award

Sky has been selected to receive a “Lone Star Land Steward Award” for her work in education and outreach for the Nueces River Authority in Uvalde County. “Sky Lewey is a conservation educator with extraordinary leadership and dedication. A key figure in the efforts to restore healthy riparian function to the Nueces River Basin and beyond.” David Langford, HCA Advisor, and his wife Myrna are also receiving an award for their landowner cooperative in Kendall County. Congratulations HCA leaders! Read more from TPWD.

To Deal With Drought, Texas Needs to Manage Growth

“With the exception of the lower Rio Grande Valley and small parts of Far West Texas, much of the state has received less than 50 percent of normal rainfall,” reads TWDB’s most recent report. “This doesn’t bode well for the next six months. A dry winter generally portends a dry spring and summer.” Read more from Nextcity.org.

Amazing rally for Bracken Bat Cave

Bat Conservation International has inspired major support to prevent intense development of 1500 acres adjacent to Bracken Cave from the City of San Antonio, Mayor Julian Castro, City Councilman Ron Nirenberg, The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation and others. Find out more about recent negotiations to save the cave and learn about upcoming opportunities to personally visit Bracken Bat Cave and see the bats take flight.

The Great Grassland Myth of the Texas Hill Country

How many times have you heard that the Hill Country was once a great vast grassland with only a modest covering of trees and brush? Although this longstanding myth is deeply ingrained and embraced by many government agencies, biologists, landowners and professionals, it is false and misleading. Learn what the Hill Country was really like prior to 1860 from eye-witness accounts, and why it is important to understand the past. Read and share from Steve Nelle.

Georgetown moves to limit residential lawns and landscaping to save water

“The rules require residential developers to use only drought-resistant plants from a list provided by the city. St. Augustine grass, which tends to be very thirsty, can only be planted in areas where there is 10 inches of topsoil and less than 6 hours of full sunlight per day.” Read more from the American Statesman (subscription required). Learn more about St. Augustine and the impact lawn watering has on our regional water supply from Native American Seed here. KXAN reports “more buyers want homes with smaller yards and less grass to water.” View video here.

The High Cost of San Antonio’s North-South Water Divide

The fact is the city’s sprawling suburbs, gated communities and ex-urban neighborhoods are addicted to lawn and landscape watering. SAWS officials say about one-third of all the water we use in the hot summer months is pumped to keep grass alive. Not humans, but grass. Learn More

TWDB launches Interactive State Water Plan Website

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has developed a new Interactive 2012 State Water Plan webpage that will let water users statewide take an up-close look at data in the 2012 State Water Plan and how our water needs will change over time. This data will arm communities with important information as they plan for projects to submit for State Water Implementation Fund (SWIFT) funding. Learn More

A more “Night Skies” friendly community

It started when the Kimble County Commissioners Court, followed by the City Council, passed resolutions supporting voluntary efforts to protect the Night Skies. This paralleled actions being taken in other Hill Country communities to preserve the awe-inspiring Night Skies and the enjoyment that comes with stargazing, including its attraction for visitors. Read more from the Junction Eagle.

More News

Upcoming Events

April

April 22 - Earth Day! - Earth Day Events

April 22 in Austin - Texas Water Journal Forum focusing on current challenges to rural and urban water conservation - Details

April 23-25 in Kerrville - Bennett Trust Educational Program: "Protecting the Legacy of the Edwards Plateau" - Details

April 23-27 - 2014 Hill Country Nature Quest - Tour the Hill Country River Region and learn about native plants, birds, butterflies and wildlife - Details

April 25 in Austin - Kent Butler Summit, “Faucets, Toilets, and Automobiles: Balancing Growth and Sustainability in the Barton Springs Aquifer Region” - Details

April 25-27 in Fredericksburg - 4th Annual Wings over the Hills Nature Festival - Details

April 26 in Austin - Native Plant Spring Symposium - Hosted by The Native Plant Society of Texas and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Details

April 28 in Kerrville - Native Bees of Texas - A meeting of the Hill Country Master Naturalist - Free and open to the public - Details

April 30 - Keeping Rivers Flowing: Innovative Strategies to Protect and Restore Rivers - Free three-part webinar series on strategies to ensure the future health of Texas' rivers, bays and estuaries - Details

May

May 3 in Bandera - 13th Annual Medina River Cleanup - Details

May 6 in Medina - Fruit Tree Management Workshop - Hosted by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Details

May 7 in San Antonio - Public Health and the Built Environment - Healthy Communities by Design - Details

May 8 in San Antonio - Urban Wildlife Management Workshop - Details

May 9 in Boerne - Monarch Workshop: Monarch Biology, Ecology & Monarch Larval Monitoring Project Training - Hosted by the Cibolo Nature Center - Details

May 9 in Stonewall - 2014 New Landowner Series: Forage Production, Livestock Production and Handling, Crop Production - Presented by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Details

May 10 in Wimberley - Grand Opening of the newly improved Jacob's Well Natural Area - Details

May 12 in Fredericksburg - Better Lights for Starry Nights: Learn how to save money, preserve our night skies and enjoy some star gazing! - Hill Country University Center - Details

May 13 in Kerrville - Texas Riparian & Stream Ecosystem Workshop – Upper Guadalupe River - Details

May 13 in Llano - Better Lights for Starry Nights: Learn how to save money, preserve our night skies and enjoy some star gazing! - Details

May 14 in Marble Falls - Better Lights for Starry Nights: Learn how to save money, preserve our night skies and enjoy some star gazing! - Details

May 16 in Fredericksburg - Better Lights for Starry Nights: Learn how to save money, preserve our night skies and enjoy some star gazing! - Enchanted Rock State Natural Area - Details

May 16 in Austin - Exploring Conservation Design in Central Texas with Randall Arendt - Details

May 19 in Austin - 2014 Texas Water Summit: Securing our Economic Future - Presented by The Acadamy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas Details

May 28-30 in San Antonio - Southwest Stream Restoration Conference - Details



See more upcoming events


Photo Contest

Photo contest begins March 1st!
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Imagine a place where vibrant communities draw strength from their natural assets to sustain their quality of life. A place where citizens care about protecting the special qualities of a region – their region. A place where people and partners band together to envision a better economic future, tackle shared challenges and care for the natural, scenic, and recreational resources that define the place they call home.
~This is a Conservation Landscape



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