For Immediate Release: April 5, 2011
Contact: Carmen Fenton, 512-469-0171
Austin, Texas – The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) continued to show their support for SB 332, a bill to reaffirm landowners’ rights to the groundwater below their land. The bill, which passed the full Senate last week, was considered in the House Natural Resources Committee today.
Joe Parker, Jr., rancher and the newly elected president of TSCRA from Byers, testified before the committee on behalf of the bill.
“For more than 100 years, landowners in Texas have believed they own the groundwater below their land and that their groundwater is part of their land. They have believed ownership of land and groundwater goes hand in hand,” said Parker.
The 1904 Texas Supreme Court case of Houston and TC Railway Company v. East established this citing, “The owner of land is the absolute owner of the soil and of percolating water, which is part of, and not different from the soil.”
Parker says that landowners’ ownership interest in the groundwater below their land has been challenged by some groundwater conservation districts (GCDs) and others in the courts who argue landowners do not own the groundwater below their land until it reaches the surface.
“This is of great concern to landowners across Texas and goes against the proud traditions, beliefs and legal rights that come with property ownership in our state and country,” said Parker. “Unfortunately, it has become necessary to legislatively reaffirm well-settled Texas law that clarifies that we own the groundwater under our land.”
SB 332 states that landowners:
• Have an ownership interest in the groundwater below their land
• Have a fair chance to produce it
• Can produce groundwater without being held liable for damage to others
“Without a constitutionally protected right, our groundwater can be taken without us being able to contest it, much less prevent it,” said Parker. “If our ownership interest in groundwater is not protected by the Texas and U.S. Constitutions like our other property rights, what legal assurances do we have that it won’t be taken from us?”
Opponents of the bill argue that SB 332 will hurt existing or “historic” users by allowing new groundwater use by other landowners. According to TSCRA, some historic users want the courts and legislature to allow GCDs to take away or deny the groundwater rights of other landowners so that they can continue to pump as usual.
“It is not legal or right to take or condemn one’s property and give it to another,” said Parker.
Parker says that TSCRA believes all landowners have an ownership interest in the groundwater below their land. Not just those landowners that have been pumping it. SB 332 provides this.
While SB 332 reaffirms that all landowners have an ownership interest in the groundwater below their land, it does not take away authority from the GCDs granted to them by Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code and the Texas Constitution. SB 332 does not mandate that a GCD grant a permit to anyone that requests one. It is still up to each GCD to make that determination, just as they do today. However, that decision must be justified in the best interest of the public.
“We believe that we can have effective groundwater regulation and management while still respecting landowners’ ownership interest in groundwater below their land,” said Parker. “Ranchers take great pride in working hard every day to conserve and manage our property, including our groundwater. Our livelihoods depend on us being good stewards of our land, including our groundwater, and making sure that our property is protected.”
For more details regarding groundwater ownership and SB 332, visit www.groundwaterownership.com.
The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is a 134-year-old trade organization. As the largest and oldest livestock association in Texas, TSCRA represents more than 15,000 beef cattle producers, ranching families and businesses who manage approximately 4 million head of cattle on 51.5 million acres of range and pasture land, primarily in Texas and Oklahoma. TSCRA provides law enforcement and livestock inspection services, legislative and regulatory advocacy, industry news and information, insurance services and educational opportunities for its members and the industry.