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State Lawmakers: Who Owns The Right To Groundwater?

Ryan Poppe | Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio

Many rural groundwater conservation boards are considering or have already decided to export some of their water to nearby urban centers. Farmers are concerned the state is developing a Robin Hood system for its water needs, one where landowners lose.


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs to examine, ahead of the 2019 legislative session, whether regulations set up by groundwater conservation districts sufficiently protect the rights of landowners to their own groundwater.


State law allows these districts to  make deals with a neighboring metropolitan water utility to provide water.


But Ronnie Muennich, who raises hay, corn and cattle in Medina County, told the Senate committee that current law gives these water districts the authority to discriminate between landowners and groundwater users that are not consistent with private property rights.


“If we own the land, then we own what is under it also — and that’s the problem. Landowners don’t always have the funds to take things to court — like to fight for what is rightly theirs under their own land,” Muennich said.


Muennich said if rural landowners are forced to supply a portion of their water to these metropolitan areas, farmers won’t be able to grow their crops.   


“You know, our food supply — we all know where it comes from — it comes from the land. And if we keep giving the water to those urban areas, we’re not going to be able to produce the food we need to feed our population,” Muennich said.


According to the Texas Water Development Board, 70 percent of all groundwater used in the state is used for irrigation.


Muennich asked state lawmakers for legislation, or to repeal current rules, so landowners had an opportunity to challenge a local board’s decision in court when private property rights are at stake.

Ryan Poppe can be reached atrpoppe@tpr.org or on Twitter@RyanPoppe1

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.