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Study warns Texas must address future of groundwater policy

Long-term water security is essential for the future of Texas, and the state acutely needs a common law system that can balance world-scale agricultural activity, industrial development and urban growth while also protecting private property rights, according to new research from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and Texas State University’s The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.

The analysis, authored by Gabriel Collins, the Baker Botts Fellow in Energy and Environmental Regulatory Affairs at the Baker Institute, aims to provide a foundation for such discussions.

“Water is an underappreciated and irreplaceable component of the Texas growth model,” Collins wrote. “At the same time, significant droughts in the state are a question of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’ Water policy can certainly wait until a more sustained supply crunch emerges and then respond reactively. But it is far better to address a known risk in a proactive manner — one that builds in the time and space needed to craft solutions and create the legal, market and physical infrastructure needed to implement them over decades.”

Texas groundwater common law is fundamentally based on principles developed in ancient Rome more than a millennium ago, Collins said. It has also been nearly 120 years since the state adopted the “rule of capture,” which, as described by the Texas Supreme Court, “essentially allows, with some limited exceptions, a landowner to pump as much groundwater as the landowner chooses, without liability to neighbors who claim that the pumping has depleted their wells.”

Read more from Texas State University here.