The Texas Senate passed a much-discussed piece of groundwater legislation, voting 28-3 to approve a bill stating that landowners in the state have a "vested ownership interest" in the groundwater beneath their land.
"We're just clarifying that you do have a vested interest in that water below your property," said state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who chairs the Committee on Natural Resources and sponsored the bill.
However, he said, the bill also establishes that landowners' rights are subject to the rules of the groundwater conservation districts, which are locally elected bodies that seek to manage aquifers for the long term and dole out permits to farmers and other water users.
The bill approved today contains additional emphasis on the conservation districts' roles than in its original version. Fraser worked with Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, who had introduced a different bill on landowner rights that gave more emphasis to the groundwater conservation districts' importance. Duncan's concern was that declaring landowners' vested ownership interest — something understood in Texas today but not explicitly stated in the law — would lead to litigation among the various stakeholders in Texas water.
However, he declared himself "very comfortable" with the version of the bill that passed today.
The three senators voting against the bill were José R. Rodríguez, D-El Paso; Kirk Watson, D-Austin; and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.