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You can lead your horse to water, but that doesn’t mean you own it

| Feb 26, 2020 | Ag Law |

It feels good to have Texas soil underfoot that you can call your own, but possession only stretches as far as the law allows. One of the most important resources in the state may reside on your plot, but complicated claims might keep it flowing through your fingers.

More than 95% of Texas is privately owned, with over 142 million acres going to private farms, ranches and forests. While your slice of that number can come with a fair share of water, it’s unlikely that you own every drop. It’s essential that you know when someone else can step in and claim this precious asset off of your parcel.

Fluid rights

Water in Texas falls into two broad categories. The state generally retains control over the first type, which includes connected surface water like streams, rivers and lakes. What will likely fall under your ownership is the second type, and that’s the water that rests underground. While this collection could be yours, there are plenty of exceptions where the rights pass to someone else.

Holding water

It may seem criminal when someone is dipping into your reserves, but they might hold a legitimate interest to the groundwater that rests on your property:

  • Never neighborly: The surrounding landowners may not owe you anything when it comes to water. Just because you own the rights beneath your property line doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a certain amount from your underground coffers. Your neighbor could drill down next door and drink it all dry.
  • Minerals matter: Collecting minerals is big business in Texas, and it comes with certain allowances. Whoever has the rights to the minerals under the surface usually has preference in getting them out. This could include altering your surface property. Since the state considers groundwater as a part of that surface property, those working your land might be able to use your water in their commercial efforts.
  • Severed shares: While the rights to the groundwater generally link to the surface property, it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can make a deal to sever the two, or perhaps someone split your property before you arrived. Either way, you’ll have to look over any outstanding arrangements to determine if someone else has a claim.

It can be difficult to know where the rights rest around you. The laws surrounding water in Texas have long been a contentious and complicated matter, but knowing who can lay claim is crucial when it comes to land ownership.

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