The legacy of Charlie Flagg: narratives of drought and overcoming the monster in West Texas water policy debates
Vol. 4 No. 1 (2013): Special Issue on Groundwater. Cover photo: An artesian well, belonging to catfsh farmer Ronnie Pucek, in the Edwards Aquifer in 1993. © Peter Essick.


Elmer Kelton
groundwater management
Ogallala Aquifer


The 40th anniversary of the publication of Elmer Kelton’s 1973 novel The Time it Never Rained coincides with one of the most severe droughts on record in Texas. Meanwhile, as of 2005, local groundwater conservation districts in Texas are required by law to determine how much groundwater they want to conserve for future generations. Such policy decisions have led to debates in West Texas among agricultural producers over whether pumping restrictions amount to erosion of the famous “rule of capture” and private property rights. This article presents Texas water law history, the Ogallala Aquifer, and its users as a continuing story in which producers and government policymakers are actors. This paper first summarizes the ways in which water challenges in the American West and elsewhere have been classified according to different disciplines and then shows how each of those ways of knowing can be understood as a kind of storytelling. The author uses Kelton’s drought novel and scholarly insights into how narrative works as a means of interpreting and contextualizing comments made by producers and others at several West Texas agricultural water policy hearings. The article concludes that policy-makers must consider the human instinct to translate complex and often contradictory knowledge from multiple domains into a less confusing story line.

Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:

    1. Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
    2. Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
    3. Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).