Groundwater Management

Groundwater issues are often about water quality, water quantity or both. State agencies such as the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the Railroad Commission of Texas (Commission), and others have regulatory responsibilities for activities relating to groundwater quality protection. The TCEQ is the state's primary environmental regulatory agency. State law authorizes the TCEQ to establish the level of water quality to be maintained, and to control sources of pollutants that may affect the quality of water in the state, including groundwater.

However, state law does not provide the TCEQ or any other state agency the authority to manage or regulate groundwater pumpage and use, which affect groundwater quantity. Groundwater conservation districts are units of local government with the authority to regulate the spacing and production of water wells and are the state's preferred method for the management of groundwater resources. For more on groundwater management, see TGPC's Management of Groundwater.

Management of Groundwater

In Texas, groundwater ownership rights are subject to regulation and control by the courts and the State Legislature. Groundwater may be managed individually by landowners under the rule of capture, or collectively by landowners and groundwater conservation districts.

  • Rule of capture: Landowners are allowed to pump as much water as they choose, without liability to surrounding landowners who might claim that the pumping has depleted their wells. There are very few judicial or legislative restrictions to the rule of capture.
  • Groundwater conservation districts: The creation of groundwater conservation districts (GCD) is authorized by state law (Texas Water Code, Chapter 36) and such districts are empowered and charged to conserve, preserve, protect, recharge, and prevent waste of groundwater resources within their boundaries. Groundwater conservation districts are the state's preferred method of groundwater management.

Groundwater conservation districts may be created by one of four methods:

  1. special legislative act;
  2. landowner petition process to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ);
  3. landowner petition process to join an existing GCD; or
  4. TCEQ initiative in a priority groundwater management area (PGMA).

State Agency Roles

TCEQ may administratively create a GCD in response to a landowner petition only if the proposed area is included in a groundwater management area. A groundwater management area is an area delineated and designated by the Texas Water Development Board that is suitable for the management of groundwater resources. A priority groundwater management area is an area that, after extensive public participation and scientific study, is delineated and designated by the TCEQ because critical groundwater problems exist or will exist within a 25-year planning horizon. Landowners are required to create a groundwater conservation district when the TCEQ designates an area as a PGMA; however, if landowners do not take such action, TCEQ is mandated to do so (Texas Water Code, Chapter 35). Additional information regarding groundwater management and GCDs can be located at the following: