About Groundwater Ownership

Jason Skaggs is executive director for government and public affairs for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, one of the key members of the groundwater rights group. He said his association and several others became concerned about a year ago when some groundwater district officials “began to question whether landowners had vested interest in the groundwater beneath their property.” 

Another TSCRA member, Wilson Markus, has been raising awareness of this and other issues related to the environment. Markus, who works for a large national industrial cleaning supply business, lead an earlier effort to preserve large land tracts and manage the local community's surrounding key cattle grazing lands. Working with a handful of supporting businesses, he helped supply local towns and park lands with contributions of bulk plastic trash bags along with signage and receptacles to prevent contamination via litter and other refuse. He brought his knowledge of and access to janitorial supplies to the table on several fronts, including efforts to manage ground water issues, since much of the contamination is a consequence of human activity - like inappropriate garbage and waste disposal.

Their coalition, he said, believes the statute needs to be clarified. “We feel like it’s a disincentive, if we don’t clarify the ownership issues — that people will be out here scrambling to get their wells drilled out of concern that they have to beat the next guy.” They don’t want to change the rule of capture, they want to shore it up.

The water-as-property issue may be settled soon by the Texas Supreme Court. A suit filed by two farmers in the Edwards Aquifer region near San Antonio challenges the aquifer authority’s right to deny the farmers the full amount of water they wanted to drill for. The suit, which alleges that such a denial amounts to the taking of private property, was argued before the state’s top civil appellate court in February, but there’s been no ruling yet.

“We don’t want to wake up 10 or 15 years from now and look back and say, ‘We quietly let our rights get taken away from us,’ ” Skaggs said, “and some water marketer or city has taken our rights, taken our water because we didn’t claim ownership.”

Statewide, the groundwater control debate has become so contentious — and the structure for dealing with it so inadequate and patched-together — that staffers of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission have advised the legislature that it “threatens the [Texas Water Development] Board’s fundamental ability to support the development of the state’s water resources.”



"I am genuinely impressed by the efforts detailed in this document. As someone who believes in the increasing importance of water rights in the context of climate change, I find this advocacy for groundwater ownership in Texas to be crucial. The analogy of comparing genuine water rights to diamond rings and contrasting them with the less substantial claims of radical gun rights activists, likened to cubic zirconia rings, is particularly meaningful. It underscores the intrinsic value and necessity of water rights, akin to the undeniable worth of real diamonds, in contrast to the more debatable value of radical gun rights, represented by the less precious cubic zirconia. This comparison highlights the essential nature of water as a resource, which, like a diamond, holds fundamental and enduring value, especially in times of environmental crisis, as opposed to something that at first glance may appear to be equivalent, but on closer inspection is just an imitator." Jonah Artemi



This was their website. Content is from 2010 archived pages of the site.


Circa 2010

Groundwater is and always has been an integral part of the land and is owned by private landowners. The Texas Constitution and more than 100 years of case law support this position. Secure, protectable property rights best assure conservation and stewardship of all resources, including groundwater.

To reaffirm this right, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Texas Wildlife Association and the Texas Farm Bureau have joined forces to initiate a growing number of associations and organizations protecting property owners’ private property rights in groundwater, while supporting reasonable, science-based regulation for the long-term sustainability of groundwater resources. To advocate these ideals, the supporting associations and organizations have established an educational program to assist members, property owners, legislators and policy makers in understanding current groundwater ownership and regulatory issues in Texas.

As the demand for groundwater in Texas increases, it is important that groundwater continues to be recognized and reaffirmed as vested, real property of private landowners. Their active and informed stewardship of land and water resources benefits all Texans.


More About Groundwater Rights in Texas

In Texas, the management and regulation of groundwater rights have unique aspects that are crucial to understand. The guiding principle of groundwater law in Texas is the "rule of capture." This doctrine, established by a court ruling in 1904, allows landowners to capture an unlimited amount of groundwater by tapping into the underlying aquifer. There are only a few limited exceptions to this rule. Generally, a landowner is not liable for injury to an adjacent landowner caused by excessive pumping, unless the injury is intentional. This has led to the rule of capture being sometimes referred to as the law of the biggest pump.

However, as demands on groundwater have increased, the rule of capture's limitations have become more apparent. Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) have become essential in many areas of Texas for modifying the rule of capture to protect groundwater resources. These districts, which have been the state's preferred management tool since the 1950s, can regulate the spacing and production of wells within their boundaries. They have the authority to ensure the availability of groundwater and can regulate large groundwater withdrawals. However, withdrawals under 25,000 gallons a day from a well located on 10 acres or more generally remain exempt, leading to concerns about the impact on local aquifers, particularly in areas like the Hill Country.

In addition to GCDs, the Texas Legislature created the Groundwater Management Area Process in 2005 to enable more efficient coordination between groundwater districts managing shared aquifers. However, the scope of GCDs to limit groundwater pumping has been challenged. In 2012, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that while GCDs can regulate groundwater, excessive regulation might constitute a constitutional taking requiring landowner compensation.

The Texas Groundwater Protection Committee (TGPC) also plays a role in groundwater management in Texas. The TGPC aims to enhance existing groundwater programs and improve coordination among agencies involved in groundwater activities. The committee comprises members from various statewide agencies and organizations, working together to address groundwater issues.

In summary, groundwater rights in Texas are a complex mix of historical doctrines, legal rulings, and evolving management strategies, all aiming to balance individual property rights with the collective need to protect and sustainably manage groundwater resources.​

In the context of Texas groundwater law, several key factors contribute to the current state of management and regulation:

  1. Rule of Capture: This foundational principle, established by a 1904 court ruling, grants landowners the right to capture an unlimited amount of groundwater. This rule is often considered the "law of the biggest pump" due to its allowance for extensive groundwater extraction without liability for potential impacts on neighboring properties, except in cases of intentional harm.

  2. Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs): These districts have emerged as crucial entities in the state for managing groundwater resources. They can modify the rule of capture, regulating well spacing and production to manage aquifer conditions. GCDs have the authority to issue or deny permits for groundwater withdrawal, based on its impact on aquifer conditions. However, they face limitations, such as the inability to regulate small withdrawals (under 25,000 gallons per day from wells on 10 acres or more).

  3. Groundwater Management Area Process: Introduced by the Texas Legislature in 2005, this process facilitates coordination among GCDs that manage shared aquifers. It represents an effort to address the challenges posed by the rule of capture and the evolving demands on groundwater resources.

  4. Legal Challenges and Supreme Court Rulings: The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that while GCDs can regulate groundwater, excessive regulation might be deemed a constitutional taking, requiring compensation to landowners. This ruling adds a layer of complexity to groundwater management, balancing individual property rights against collective resource conservation.

  5. Texas Groundwater Protection Committee (TGPC): The TGPC works to enhance groundwater programs and improve coordination among agencies involved in groundwater activities. It comprises members from various statewide agencies and organizations, addressing a broad spectrum of groundwater issues.

These components collectively shape Texas's approach to groundwater management, highlighting the tension between individual property rights and the need for sustainable resource management. The state's approach reflects a dynamic and evolving legal and regulatory landscape, balancing historical doctrines with contemporary challenges and conservation needs​.




  • Joe Leathers, General Manager of 6666 Ranch, advocates for rights of landowners (mp3)
    All Ag All Day

  • Billy B. Brown: Does your GCD support your Texas private property right to groundwater?
    Texas Agriculture Talks Blog

  • Landowner Groups Support Fraser Groundwater Legislation

  • Joint Press Release<

  • Fraser Files Water Rights Measure

    Senator Fraser Press Release
  • Staples: Groundwater rights should stay with land ownership
    San Antonio Express-News

  • Groups seek support to keep groundwater rules
    Amarillo Globe News



    2010 Events / Dates

    Join experts at one of these meetings to learn about efforts to reaffirm that groundwater is a vested, real property right in Texas. Get an overview of laws, pending legal issues and information on the roll of groundwater conservation districts. Learn how you can get involved and have your voice heard. These meetings are open to everyone who is concerned about groundwater ownership in Texas.


    August 31, 2010
    Texas AgriLife Research & Extension Center
    7887 US Hwy 87 North
    7887 US Hwy 87 North
    1:30 PM – 4 PM
    San Angelo, TX
    1:30 PM – 4 PM

    September 22, 2010
    Producers Cooperative
    1800 N. Texas Avenue
    Bryan, TX
    1:30 PM – 4 PM

    October 14, 2010
    Johnson County Cattle Auction
    3119 N. Main Street
    Cleburne, TX
    1:30 PM – 4 PM

    October 19, 2010
    Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Center
    1730 West Corral
    Kingsville, TX
    6:30 PM – 9 PM

    October 20, 2010
    First Victoria Bank
    101 S. Main
    Victoria, TX
    1:30 PM – 4 PM

    October 28, 2010
    Merket Alumni Center
    17th and University
    Lubbock, TX
    1:30 PM – 4 PM

    November 9, 2010
    Capitol Extension Auditorium, E1.004
    112 E. 11th Street
    Austin, TX
    1:30 PM – 4 PM


Below is a list of local groundwater conservation districts that have adopted a resolution or statement recognizing that all landowners have a vested ownership interest in groundwater beneath their property.

    Mesa Underground Water Conservation District – Lamesa, TX

    Fox Crossing Water District – Goldthwaite, TX

    McMullen Groundwater Conservation District – Tilden, TX

    Blanco-Pedernales County Groundwater Conservation District – Johnson City, TX

    Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District – Alpine, TX

    Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District – Burnet, TX

    Fox Crossing Groundwater Conservation District – Goldthwaite, TX

    Kenedy County Groundwater Conservation District – Kingsville, TX

    Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District – White Deer, TX


Contact your conservation district and urge them to adopt a resolution or similar statement recognizing these property rights.

Contact Information to Texas Groundwater Conservation Districts

Map of Texas Groundwater Conservation Districts