Texas water rights endangered by inefficient water use

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Should my well be pumped dry to fill your swimming pool? That’s the million dollar Texas water rights question.

Texas landowners—concerned about their livelihoods and their private property rights—watch as the courts, and soon the legislature contemplate the use of this precious resource.

An influx of new residents could burst the Texas water pipeline. Experts predict a doubling of the state’s population in the next 50 years. Nobody’s predicting a doubling of water resources to meet those needs.

There are no easy answers. Texas water law says landowners have complete access to water beneath their land. Public need will force the question on how that access will be restricted. Will it take the form of usage limits? Will the Texas water rights of individuals be compromised? Those questions have yet to be resolved.

Yet the focus seems to narrow on rural areas, where the water is. I know a lot of farmers—many of who depend on irrigation to feed and clothe the rest of us—would like to see a focus too, on urban areas, where the needs increasingly grow.


What I hear in the country is acknowledgement that Texans are in this water dilemma together. Farmers and ranchers recognize the needs of all Texans to access this increasingly precious resource.

But I also hear resentment when cities such as Dallas aspire to quench their unending thirst upon the backs of rural areas. “Why take mine when you’re wasting yours,” is a question asked again and again by farmers concerned about their ability to stay in the business of growing food and fiber.

Many farmers seek efficiency through irrigation systems that precisely direct water to plants and through conservation techniques such as minimum tillage or no-till farming—where crop residue is left on the surface of the field to conserve moisture.

They’re asking their urban neighbors to step up their efforts as well. Cities such as San Antonio and El Paso have taken the lead in municipal water conservation efforts. Other Texas cities should follow their examples.

The fact is we can build more reservoirs. We can pump rural areas of Texas dry. But it comes at an expense—not only in the state’s limited resources but in the human cost of spent livelihoods and private property rights as well. Without life-giving water, agriculture literally dries up in many parts of the state.


And that is shameful—especially when a big part of the solution is as simple as stopping a leaky faucet or fixing a running commode, as well as taking advantage of a number of readily available water conservation techniques.

No matter what the future holds, water remains a finite resource. It’s much cheaper to make better use of what we’ve got than to find new sources.

That’s a simple truth all Texans—rural and urban—need to live by.


Mike Barnett is Publications Director for the Texas Farm Bureau and a regular contributor for the Texas Ag Talks blog. He writes on a variety of topics including Texas water rights, animal welfare, and agriculture trade.

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