St. Mary's Law Journal


Karen H. Norris


The rapidly increasing Texas population coupled with the scarcity of water resources has created an urgent need for regulation of ground water pumpage. The extraction of ground water in Texas remains largely unregulated. Texas landowners, by virtue of their surface ownership, have property rights in all underlying ground water. As such, Texas landowners have the right to unlimited pumpage of the ground water beneath their land. Texas landowners have jealously guarded this right at the expense of our environment and future water resources. The Texas legislature created conservative underground water districts to help preserve water resources. However, the limited scope of these districts falls far short of what is necessary to accomplish the stated purpose. Without some additional state action towards conservation and regulation of ground water, these supply problems will worsen.

Texas should adopt a reasonable use standard to regulate ground water pumpage.
The reasonable use standard will allow landowners to use the ground water beneath their property with limits on pumpage. Further, Texas can avoid much of the anticipated political opposition by selecting this doctrine since ground water would remain with the owner of the overlying property. If Texas adopts the reasonable use doctrine, it should also appoint the Texas Water Commission agency, or some other centralized state agency, to monitor and enforce the standard adopted by the legislature. Thus, Texas can efficiently allocate scarce water resources by replacing the present archaic property law with a reasonable use standard.


St. Mary's University School of Law