Regulating unregulated groundwater in Texas: how the state could conquer this final frontier
Vol. 7 No. 1 (2016). Cover photo: Lake Austin Dam on the Colorado River, June 15, 1935. Photo CO8484, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.


rule of capture
private property


Texas has 9 major aquifers and 21 minor aquifers underlying the state. These aquifers are a vital water supply source in Texas, providing approximately 60% of the 16.1 million acre-feet of water used in the state annually. These underground waters also sustain surface water flow in rivers across Texas; thus, they are integral to the health of watersheds throughout the state and the economies that depend on this water. However, approximately one-third of Texas is not regulated by a groundwater conservation district. During a time of unparalleled pressure on groundwater resources across the state, the lack of groundwater protection in some areas of Texas is undermining important areas of law and policy—from property rights and natural resource protection, to groundwater management and regional water planning. The presence of a groundwater conservation district, however, does not guarantee effective management of groundwater resources or protection of private property rights, springflow, and surface water flow. Groundwater policy in Texas permits aquifers to be mined and fails to protect the property rights of landowners who wish to conserve their groundwater. In addition, a fragmented regulatory structure and insufficient funding for groundwater conservation districts impede effective management of groundwater resources. To bring effective groundwater management to areas of the state where groundwater conservation districts do not exist, therefore, Texas must resolve fundamental challenges in the way groundwater is managed in areas where it is regulated.

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