Lawyers, Policy Experts Weigh In on Groundwater Case

Glenn and JoLynn Bragg invested in growing pecans in Hondo, Texas, before groundwater pumping regulations existed there. A recent landmark court decision found that the regulations resulted in a violation of their property rights.
Glenn and JoLynn Bragg invested in growing pecans in Hondo, Texas, before groundwater pumping regulations existed there. A recent landmark court decision found that the regulations resulted in a violation of their property rights.

Last month, a ruling by a Texas appeals court fueled the debate over state regulation of groundwater resources.

In Edwards Aquifer Authority v. Glenn and JoLynn Bragg, the 4th Appeals Court of Texas found that the Edwards Aquifer Authority, one of Texas' largest and most powerful groundwater conservation districts, had violated the Braggs’ property rights when it limited their ability to pump water from underneath their land. The decision will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

Below is the court’s ruling, with annotations from four water lawyers and policy experts. Generally agreeing with the court’s decision is Russ Johnson, who often represents water users like landowners and industries in their fight to be allowed to obtain the water underneath their property. Mark McPherson, who represents oil and gas companies in a similar capacity, also expresses support for the ruling. Both Johnson and McPherson have clients who may clash with groundwater regulation that prevents them from pumping the full amount of water they'd like to capture beneath their land.

Greg Ellis, a former Edwards Aquifer Authority general manager who now represents many Texas groundwater regulation bodies, expresses disagreement with the decision, concerned that it will forbid almost any regulation of groundwater. He is joined by Steve Kosub, a lawyer for San Antonio Water Systems, the Edwards Aquifer Authority's main customer. Although the water utility is at odds with the authority over its own abilities to use water lying under San Antonio, the city's ratepayers could bear the brunt of the cost of this court decision, should it be upheld.

 

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