Property owners score victory in water-rights case
The issue of private property owners rights is a big deal in the Texas Panhandle. Farmers and ranchers usually don't want to surrender the right to do what they wish on land they own.
Thus, an appellate court decision way down yonder in Corpus Christi is likely to have landowners cheering in these parts.
The 13th State Court of Appeals has ruled that the state cannot give special treatment to cities or utilities if they impinge on the rights of property owners. The ruling, according to the Texas Tribune, applies even to situations when the state declares the right to protect the "public health, safety abd welfare."
“It’s a clear win for private property rights,” said Regan Beck, assistant general counsel for the Texas Farm Bureau. “The rules that TCEQ is trying to promulgate would really do away with the priority system as we know it.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it is disappointed in the ruling.
The ruling comes from a case involving Dow Chemical and its operations along the Brazos River. Dow had claimed rights to the Brazos River water. At issue was whether the Texas regulators could grant exceptions to a longstanding rule that allows a "first in line, first in time" preference for those using surface water.
As the Texas Tribune reported: "The giant chemical manufacturer is by far the largest water user on the Brazos, which also supplies farmers and ranchers, cities and other industries along its 900-mile stretch from northwest Texas to the Gulf Coast. It also holds the oldest water rights, giving the company priority over all others."
The court ruling says, in effect, that the state cannot push such a big-time water user out of the way.
Dow managed to enlist the support of the Texas Farm Bureau and it won a lower-court ruling. TCEQ appealed to the 13th Court of Appeals, which then upheld the Travis County court ruling in Dow's favor.
How does this play across the state? Again, property owner rights ring loudly in the Panhandle. Landowners here, as well as in other regions of the state, will see this ruling as an affirmation of their right to use the resources that flow through their land.