With an exploding population and a dwindling surface water supply that is increasingly out of reach, Texans are counting on water below the ground to fuel the state's economic growth. But they face significant challenges, examined in this series on the state's thirst for underground water.
A controversial groundwater pumping plan that opponents argue could threaten the lower Rio Grande's already depleted supply is highlighting a conundrum in Texas water law. Texas rivers and springs are the property of the state, while water flowing below ground belongs to landowners. But many of the state's surface water resources are fed by groundwater.
There are an estimated 880 trillion gallons of brackish water underneath the state's surface. But using the salty resource in Texas can be tricky: Treating it carries a hefty price tag, and the oversight of its withdrawal isn't clear-cut.
Unlike the rest of the state, the Texas Gulf Coast has been working for decades to reduce dependency on groundwater because pumping from the Gulf Coast Aquifer has caused the land to sink. But in Fort Bend County, some areas are resisting calls to end the pumping.
Groundwater doesn't flow according to the state's political boundaries. Yet it's regulated largely along county lines, a decades-old system that is facing increased criticism among some of those fighting for more access to the resource. But private property interests say the current system serves the state well.
As the drought continues and farmers struggle to keep their crops irrigated, many are probing beneath their land for water. But when water is such a precious commodity, procuring it is not ever simple. As landowners fight for rights to water under their land, water district managers worry about a dwindling resource.