Deep Trouble: Options for Managing the Hidden Threat of Aquifer Depletion in Texas
This article suggests that while much of the recent groundwater law debate has focused on protecting private property rights, creating additional local groundwater districts, or stopping cities from pumping groundwater from rural areas, these are not the core issues. While they are important and must be considered in any solution, they do not address the underlying problem or lead to sustainable solutions that will protect groundwater quantity and quality. The core groundwater management issues that must be addressed are: (1) how to resolve the conflicts over domestic well interference caused by high capacity wells; (2) how to prevent aquifer overdrafting and promote safe, sustainable aquifer yields; and (3) how to address aquifer mining. When examined in this context, the issues shift from protecting private property rights in groundwater to effectively managing aquifers and groundwater in order to sustain an agricultural economy that is transitioning to an urban service economy. Part II of the article introduces several hydrological concepts related to these issues. Part III summarizes state laws on groundwater allocation and management and their application in selected states. Part IV offers options for addressing Texas domestic well interference conflicts, and aquifer overdrafting and mining problems. This article does not advocate abolishing the rule of capture, nor does it suggest how groundwater districts should be organized and structured. It does, however, present options for managing groundwater resources within the capture rule and groundwater district arrangement.