Management of Groundwater
In Texas, groundwater ownership rights are subject to regulation and control by the courts and the State Legislature. Groundwater may be managed individually by landowners under the rule of capture, or collectively by landowners and groundwater conservation districts.
- Rule of capture: Landowners are allowed to pump as much water as they choose, without liability to surrounding landowners who might claim that the pumping has depleted their wells. There are very few judicial or legislative restrictions to the rule of capture.
- Groundwater Conservation Districts: The creation of Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) is authorized by state law (Texas Water Code, Chapter 36) and such districts are empowered and charged to conserve, preserve, protect, recharge, and prevent waste of groundwater resources within their boundaries. Groundwater conservation districts are the state’s preferred method of groundwater management.
Groundwater conservation districts may be created by one of four methods:
- special legislative act,
- landowner petition process to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ),
- landowner petition process to join an existing GCD, or
- TCEQ initiative in a Priority Groundwater Management Area (PGMA).
State Agency Roles
TCEQ may administratively create a GCD in response to a landowner petition only if the proposed area is included in a groundwater management area. A groundwater management area is an area delineated and designated by the Texas Water Development Board that is suitable for the management of groundwater resources. A priority groundwater management area is an area that, after extensive public participation and scientific study, is delineated and designated by the TCEQ because critical groundwater problems exist or will exist within a 50-year planning horizon. Landowners are required to create a groundwater conservation district when the TCEQ designates an area as a PGMA; however, if landowners do not take such action, TCEQ is mandated to do so (Texas Water Code, Chapter 35). Additional information regarding groundwater management is provided below.
- Want to know which Groundwater Management Area (GMA) your land is in? See the Texas Alliance of Groundwater District’s (TAGD’s) homepage, under “Resources” select “GCD Index”, and then click on the blue “Enter GCDI” button at the bottom of the webpage. Clicking on the GMA Map zooms in to the counties that are included within that GMA. You can also see Texas Water Development Board’s (TWDB’s) Groundwater Management Areas webpage for more information.
- Want to know if your land is in a GCD or PGMA? See TCEQ’s Groundwater Conservation Districts and Priority Groundwater Management Areas webpages for various maps and information. You can also see TWDB’s Groundwater Conservation Districts webpage for more information.
- TCEQ Rule in Title 30 of the Texas Administrative Code: Chapters 293 and 294 cover aspects of groundwater management.
- TCEQ and TWDB’s Priority Groundwater Management Areas and Groundwater Conservation Districts, Report to the 88th Texas Legislature (January 2023, PDF)
- The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service on-line Bookstore offers a number of publications on groundwater management such
- “Managing Texas Groundwater Resources Through Groundwater Conservation Districts” (B-1612)
- “Questions About Groundwater Conservation Districts in Texas” (B-6120)
- “Groundwater Conservation Districts: Success Stories” (B-6087)
- “Priority Groundwater Management Areas: Overview and Frequently Asked Questions” (B-6191)
Hard copies or free electronic downloads of these publications are available after setting up an account.
- Texas Groundwater Protection Committee’s (TGPC’s) Groundwater Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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