Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Who Owns the Water in Texas? Surface Water

In Texas, ownership rights to Surface water (lakes, rivers, streams and creeks, etc.) depends on how long your family has owned property in Texas.  If your landownership goes back to pioneer days, then you may have Prior Appropriation Rights, if someone in your family filed a claim for water use by 1969.  In this case, your family would own the surface water on your property and can use it in a reasonable manor that doesn't infringe on the rights of other water users.

If your property ownership doesn't go back that far, then you have to apply for a permit with the
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) because Surface water in Texas (after 1967) belongs to the state.
Water in the rivers, streams, underflow, creeks, tides, lakes and every bay and arm of the Texas portion of the Gulf of Mexico is considered state water. Its use may be acquired through appropriation via the permitting process established in Texas Water Code, Chapter 11, and Title 30, Texas Administrative Code.
So surface water regulation is pretty well established in Texas and its use is not as contentious as ground water usage.  Where problems occur has to do with sharing of water resources. Texas shares its surface water resources with other US states and Mexico.  Texas has many strong ties with Mexico, population, commerce, and language, but what truly divides us is water.  In the future squabbles over water are likely to become even more fractious as populations swell on both sides of the border.

Texas and Mexico share the water from the Rio Grande and its tributaries along with two man made lakes, Lake Falcon and Lake Amistad.  Since 1944 the US has had a water treaty with Mexico.  Since Texas has by far the longest border we are the ones most effected.  Under the treaty Mexico agreed to send 350,000 acre feet of water each year from the Rio Grande to its neighboring US states to the north.  In return the US would send 1.5 million acre feet per year from the Colorado River to Mexico.  But over the years Mexico started to lag behind on its commitment. Water policy has always been a problem for Mexico and most of its states on the border are in the dessert where water is scarce already.  Droughts exacerbated the problem. Between 2000 and 2001 the situation was so dire that the mighty Rio Grande didn't have enough water to drain into the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2004, US Water News reported that Mexico was not meeting its obligations under the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty.    Texas Farmers and Ranchers were angry.
After years of losing land, money and producers due to a lack of water, 17 irrigation districts, North Alamo Water Supply Corporation, and 29 farmers sent notice to Mexican officials that, under the NAFTA agreement of 1994, unless Mexico delivers what is due, they will seek up to $500 million in damages from the Mexican government.

"Mexico has unlawfully taken over 1,000,000 acre feet of Texas water and given it to Mexican farmers so their farmers can grow crops. All while the crops of farmers in the Rio Grande Valley have dried up and blown away," said Nancie Marzulla, attorney for the claimants in a recent press release.
Droughts aren't the only problem, flooding in 2010 caused by a small hurricane and a tropical depression sent water barreling down the Rio Grande destroying lives and property and  leaving people stranded on both sides of the border.  And with the drug war raging on the Mexico side of the border, even recreational water use is threatened

Fights over water have plagued man for centuries, but as the world's population continues to swell fights over water will likely lead to all out war.  Water will be the new oil. 

1 comment:

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