World's Worst Game of Telephone: Attempting to Understand the Conversation between Texas's Legislature and Courts on Groundwater
St. Mary's University School of Law
June 20, 2013
University of Texas Environmental Law Journal, Forthcoming
Groundwater is a critical component of Texas water resources. Currently, groundwater accounts for 60% of all water withdrawn in the state. Historically, the largest groundwater user was the agricultural sector; however, Texas cities are also increasingly reliant on these water sources. State water demands are projected to increase 22% in the next fifty years. Many of these demands will be in the groundwater sector. In addition to increasing demand, periodic and sometimes severe droughts challenge an already stressed system. Texas’s ability to provide sufficient resources depends in large part on their effective management.
This paper evaluates the Day decision through the lens of past court decisions and legislation in an effort to understand why the court ruled as it did. Part II introduces Texas’s groundwater resources, current uses of that water, and present concerns regarding sustainability. Part III chronicles the line of cases that established capture as the common law rule in Texas. Part IV traces the history of groundwater legislation after courts established rule of capture. This legislation created a regulatory overlay on the common law rule of capture through localized groundwater conservation districts and the statewide planning process. Part V describes the process through which the Edwards Aquifer Authority came into existence and why it is different from other groundwater districts in the state in that its strict pumping cap immediately raised property rights concerns. Part VI explains how groundwater litigation shifted from right of capture limitations to questions of when ownership vests. This change was a product of increased pressure on groundwater resources caused by additional regulations and growing population demands.
Finally, Part VII presents three hypotheses regarding why the court came to its decision in the Day case despite the case law history. The first theory is that delineation of property interests is an issue reserved for courts’ authority. Another alternative is that the holding in Day was a result of a statewide shift towards the protection of private property rights above other concerns. The final proposed alternative is that the Day holding was actually an effort to define the property right in such a way as to encourage more regulation or at least limit takings claims through the expansive of correlative rights to groundwater.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 52
Keywords: water rights, groundwater, water law, water, capture, aquifer, Edwards Aquifer Authority, EAA, day, property rights, groundwater allocation, groundwater regulation, conservation, Sipriano, Groundwater Conservation District, GCD, Sierra Club, Lujan, Del Rio, Bragg, Texas, Texas legislature, drought
JEL Classification: K32, L98, Q25, Q20, Q21, Q28, R52
Date posted: June 22, 2013