The ongoing saga involving groundwater ownership has been well documented on this blog. Today, the House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hear the house version of the groundwater bill, Chairman Ritter’s HB 1730.
Both this bill and the senate compromise bill fail to address real concerns about its environmental impacts, the legal door it opens or its financial implications. Environmental groups are not alone in their opposition to this legislation. Rice interests have joined in against the bill. In an email to members to the Texas Rice Producers Legislative Group, Chairman LG Raun, laid out several reasons for the group’s opposition: (italicized)
- It jeopardizes the sustainability of aquifers by encouraging pumping limits to be raised
We are in the middle of the worst Texas drought in 44 years and anything that raises pumping limits right now puts Texas’ water sustainability at risk. We cannot afford to increase the demands on our already over-committed water resources.
- It monetizes groundwater so that landowners are guaranteed the right to pump groundwater, or they could be compensated by taxpayers if not allowed to do so
Making guarantees using shared resources can place a hefty financial obligation on groundwater conservation districts, the state and landowners. In a Legislative Session in which members want to limit tax obligations on the public, this bill doesn’t seem to pass muster. Rice Farmers also take issue with the bill’s broad definition of “landowner.” We agree that when it comes to water and conservation, increasing the number of interested parties who can claim a “takings” is not a good idea.
- It threatens the viability of groundwater conservation districts by subjecting them to excessively high risks of taking claims
The bill doesn’t properly protect Groundwater Conservation Districts from “takings” claims and leaves them open to an excessive liability, which virtually destroys the legislative intent reflected in the creation of the districts. If passed, a large portion of the state’s water could be wrapped up indefinitely in litigation.
Texas rice farmers are no strangers to water constraints. The need for a readily available water supply is essential to their livelihood and their concerns about this issue is yet another clear indication of the real issues the bill presents. These concerns mean more uncertainty in Texas groundwater, including more lawsuits and more stress on aquifers and water resources that Texas cities count on.
We agree with Sierra Club, who has suggested the bill be tabled until its environmental impacts can be studied by well-recognized hydrologists and scientists. It’s the right thing to do.