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SB 322... Is it a water grab?
Wednesday, April 27, 2011 • Posted April 27, 2011

I get concerned when politicians want to change laws that don’t need to be changed. SB 332 that Troy Fraser is sponsoring falls into that category. It doesn’t help that Fraser was selected one of Texas’ 10 worst politicians for 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2009 by Texas Monthly magazine.

Here’s what the Hill Country Alliance website says about the bill:

"What Does SB 332 Change?

SB 332s most significant aspect can be summed up in three words: "vested ownership interest," which the bill uses to define the nature of the interest that a landowner has in groundwater. Current law already recognizes a landowners property interest in groundwater beneath the owners land, and Groundwater Conservation Districts consider this interest in managing the resource. SB 332 could be interpreted to go beyond the Rule of Capture even to change it in a fundamental way by setting up a system where a landowners groundwater right would "vest" while the water is still underground, or "in place." This has the potential to dramatically alter not only the Rule of Capture, but also the role of GCDs in regulating water use and preserving future supplies.

In order to fulfill the role of truly protecting water supply for the long term, GCDs sometimes limit groundwater pumping. Many GCDs, particularly those in high demand areas, are struggling to prevent water from being withdrawn faster than it is restored ("aquifer mining").

Aquifer mining can result in a steep drawdown of the water table over time, adversely affecting existing well users and even reducing the flow of aquifer-fed springs. Reasonable pumping restrictions are vital to protecting overall supplies for the long term and preventing existing wells from going dry. These pumping limitations also have other important benefits, including maintaining flows for the many springs and creeks that characterize the Hill Country, contributing to our quality of life and strong property values." —copied from Hill Country Alliance website.

http://www.hillcountryalliance.org/uploads/HCA/HCASB332IssuePaper3.pdf

From all I have read, the problem with giving landowners "vested ownership" of the groundwater beneath their property would strengthen "takings" lawsuits against GCDs to the point they could not afford to regulate the aquifers because they could not afford all the lawsuits. Without GCD control, our groundwater could be pumped and sold to the highest bidder. I hope the majority of people in our area realize that politicians are not necessarily looking out for the interests of the majority. Strong property rights usually favor those who wish to do something that will be detrimental to their neighbors—such as taking more than their share of the groundwater.

In my opinion SB 332 would be a form of deregulation disguised as stronger property rights. If you’ve been around as long as I have you remember how politicians deregulated savings and loan companies which caused the collapse of the 1980s. More recently, politicians deregulated banking, security and insurance agencies allowing them to merge causing the financial collapse and depression that we are suffering through today.

In this time of frequent droughts, we don’t need deregulation of our groundwater. We need more regulation.

How can our legislators justify making laws that give landowners "vested" ownership of any groundwater when it belongs to all landowners? It is all connected. When one landowner decides he will sell his water in vast amounts he is taking everyone’s water. Most of us wouldn’t do that but there are many who would if it became legal. And if the profits are great enough, speculators will come from outside the area to get in on the "water rush."

Please read all you can on this issue because it is vitally important. These sites may help:

Environmental Defense Fund on SB 332

http://blogs.edf.org/texaswatersolutions/category/groundwater/

Tyson Broad’s research:

http://southllano.org/2011/01/groundwater-ownership/

Larry Payne

Reference

http://www.texasmonthly.com/magazine/bestworst

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