by NICK SWARTSELL
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus promised to work on water issues and protect private property rights at the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association annual meeting Tuesday in Austin.
“When the 83rd legislature convenes in January, we’re going to have a unique opportunity to address the huge growth Texas is experiencing,” Straus said. “Water will be at the center of the discussion.”
Straus remarked on the vital role of water in Texas’ economy and cited the drought and 2011’s brutal heat as reasons to focus on conservation efforts. “I don’t want to reach a day where a Texas company announces it’s moving to Florida or Ohio because of water issues,” he said.
He was careful to balance his call for conservation with an appeal to cattle raiser’s property rights, however, noting that he realized the drought had hit agricultural workers hardest and that “stewardship” by private landowners plays a role in conserving water.
He cited Senate Bill 18, which limits eminent domain powers, as an example of commitment to land owners.
“As we move forward in a legislative session where water will be a key issue,” he said, “we will do so in a way that is respectful to individual land owners and cattle raisers.”
NICK SWARTSELL interns for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.
COVER: Texas House Speaker Joe Straus enters a Republican House caucus meeting in January 2011. PHOTO by MARJORIE KAMYS COTERA/FOR THE TEXAS TRIBUNEEmail | Print
Yep, settling water issues in a semi-desert (Texas) is a tough nut to crack. Over the (many) years of my life I have come to believe that underground water should be more of a commonly owned/controlled resource and less the property of a given landowner. I believe in property rights and I’ve cringed at some of the actions certain states have taken under “eminent domain”. But when it comes to underground aquifers, I simply do not accept that anyone has the right to unlimited water extraction or to pollute (fracking, anyone?).
First, “Policy” needs consistency in how we value fresh water “rights.” Surface water is publicly owned and it’s use is regulated by a strong central authority, the TCEQ. But, ground water and surface water both come from rain water, and ground water is regulated by the TWDB, a weak authority whose creation is statutory. The Tex. Leg. effectively eliminated the common law (Court made civil law)authority over fresh water with these two entities. The Tex. Sup. Ct. failed to cede the authority to the Leg. in Day vs. EAA. Leg. statutes trump the Common Law. So, the S. Ct. went way out of bounds to give an advisory opinion about who would win a condemnation claim for a wrongful taking of ground water rights by the TWDB, even though they ruled that the TWDB had treated Mr. within the law. So, the Leg. can and should address the Court’s ruling specifically stating that their action replaces all court made rules. With both bodies making the law we now run the risk that taxpayers could be forced to pay the land owner for the value of “water in place” under the owner’s “condemned”surface even though the land owner NEVER captured it and may never have intended to capture it. Taxpayers would then have to pay again for the cost of capture, if it is available for use.