Fraser Passes Water Rights Measure
Austin — Senate Bill 332 by State Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, was adopted by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. Under SB 332, the Texas Legislature recognizes that a landowner has a vested ownership interest in the groundwater below the surface as an interest in the landowner's real property.
"The right to produce groundwater from beneath your property is one of the most basic of all property rights," Fraser said. "This right was reaffirmed in 1904 when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that groundwater was the private property of a landowner and that a landowner could not be held liable for harming a neighbor's well by exercising their right to capture the groundwater."
"For over 100 years, landowners have believed that the Texas Supreme Court gave them a vested private property right in the groundwater beneath their land," said Fraser. "And, that the ownership interest gives them a constitutionally-protected right to drill a well and produce groundwater for their use."
The vested ownership interest outlined in SB 332 entitles the landowner to a fair chance to produce the groundwater below the surface of real property but would not entitle a landowner to the right to capture a specific amount of groundwater. It also would not affect the existence of common law defenses or other defenses to liability under the Rule of Capture.
The legislation is intended to work in conjunction with local groundwater conservation district regulation. The substitute language adopted by the committee clarifies that groundwater districts continue to have the same authority granted to them under Chapter 36 of the Water Code to regulate and conserve groundwater.
"Landowners recognize that locally elected groundwater conservation districts play an important role in helping manage water to ensure it is available for future generations," said Fraser. "But there is a big difference between managing how much water is pumped and denying property owners the right to access the water beneath their land."
"This was an important step forward," Fraser said. "The management of this important asset is key to developing the State Water Plan and ensuring that water is available for the future."
SB 332 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
Senator Fraser represents a 21-county region in the geographic center of the state. He is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. He also sits on the following standing Senate Committees: Economic Development, Nominations, State Affairs, and International Relations and Trade.