For More Information: Ken Kramer, 512-476-6962
(office), 512-626-4204 (cell)
Update: May 27, 2011
The Texas Senate today concurred with the House version of SB 332 – the groundwater rights bill passed earlier in the week by the House (see press release below). Thus, there is no change to the version passed by the House, and the bill will now go to the Governor, who is expected to sign it or allow it to become law without his signature.
Released May 24, 2011
Statement of Ken Kramer, Director, Lone
Star Chapter, Sierra Club, on
of the Groundwater Rights Bill
"The Sierra Club commends Rep. Ritter, the House Natural Resources Committee, and the Committee staff for their efforts to achieve a groundwater bill to balance the interests of landowners and the groundwater districts to which the state has entrusted the responsibility of managing our aquifers. It remains to be seen whether the proper balance has been struck. Candidly we are concerned that SB 332 raises more questions than it answers. Ultimately those questions may be answered in court.
“Among those questions are the following: does the bill enhance the ability of a landowner to claim a ‘taking’ of the value of private property by regulatory actions of a groundwater district, would such a claim result in a groundwater district having to compensate a property owner for ‘loss of value’ in the property, how would payment for such a claim or claims affect the financial viability of a district, what impact would a number of takings claims have on the willingness of districts to take strong action to protect groundwater resources, and are such terms as “does not prohibit” a district from taking certain actions too limiting on the powers of districts (other provisions in the bill use the broader term “does not affect” in relation to other district powers).
“Admittedly many people view the bill as just a restatement of the current situation regarding landowner rights and groundwater district powers, which somewhat begs the question why groups pushing the bill even care about its passage now. Fortunately those groups totally failed in their attempt to get a bill through the House to establish a “ vested” right of groundwater ownership. Assuming that the Senate concurs in the House version of the bill or that a conference committee accepts the basics of the House language, the jettisoning of the concept of a “vested” right to groundwater is a major positive outcome, rejecting any absolute right of ownership that would have thoroughly undermined necessary management of groundwater resources by districts.
“The bottom line is that regardless of the passage of this bill, Texas needs to come to grips with the need to manage our groundwater resources on a sustainable basis for future generations. Ultimately a landowner can’t build a fence around a natural resource such as groundwater. It’s a shared resource even if a landowner has certain rights to the use of that resource. Those are realities that no piece of legislation can change. We will ignore those realities at our peril.”