Texas Water: Groundwater Conservation Districts (Part I)

**This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.**

Earlier in the Texas Water series, we discussed the general law applicable to Texas groundwater.  As you might recall, the Texas Legislature has tasked local Groundwater Conservation Districts (“GCDs”) with the duty of managing Texas’ groundwater.  Thus, rules and regulations of GCDs are exceptions to the general Rule of Capture.  In the next two weeks, we will discuss GCDs in Texas, today focusing on the basics of what GCDs are and how they are created, and next Monday turning to what actions may be taken by a GCD.

What is a GCD?

GCDs are regulatory bodies charged with conserving groundwater.  These entities are governed by Texas Water Code Chapter 36. [Read full statute here.]  The purposes of GCDs are “to provide for the conservation, preservation, protection, recharging, and prevention of waste of groundwater and of groundwater reservoirs or their subdivisions and are to control subsidence.”  See Texas Water Code Section 36.0015.

How many GCDs are there?

As of August 2013, there are 99 GCDs in Texas, and there are 4 additional GCDs pending confirmation.  GCDs cover all or portions of 173 counties and regulate 85% of the groundwater in Texas.  Groundwater districts are generally based upon county lines, rather than based upon the aquifers over which they lie.  Each groundwater district is part of a Groundwater Management Area along with all other districts overlying an aquifer, and each of the 16 GMAs in Texas work together to develop water plans.

How are GCDs created?

A GCD may be created in one of three ways.  The first, and most common, is by legislative action.  The Texas Legislature may pass a bill that identifies the area included in the GCD, sets forth the powers granted to the district, and explains procedures for appointing board members of the new district.  The second way a GCD may be created is by petition from landowners.  Landowners may file a petition with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requesting the creation of a GCD.  The TCEQ must then find that the boundaries of the proposed district provide for effective management and that the proposed district can be adequately funded.  The third option is that the TCEQ may initiate the creation of a GCD, but the local voters still elect the director and determine whether the GCD will be funded by taxes.  For each of these three methods, a local election is held for voters to determine whether to approve a GCD and whether to approve a tax to fund the GCD.  The majority of voters in each county sought to be included in the GCD must approve the creation of a district.

Why do we have GCDs?

In 1917, the Conservation Amendment to the Texas constitution was passed.  That amendment requires the state to engage in the preservation and conservation of all resources, including water, and authorizes the Texas Legislature to pass laws that may be necessary and appropriate to conserve water.

The Texas Legislature determined the best way to conserve groundwater in Texas was to create and utilize Groundwater Conservation Districts throughout the state.  In 1949, the use of GCDs was recognized, and the first GCD was created in 1951.  Since that time, the state has made clear that GCDs are the preferred method of groundwater regulation in Texas.  See Texas Water Code Section 36.0015.  GCDs vest groundwater management in local decision makers, which has the benefit of allowing decisions to be made that are in the best interest of the different climates and areas of Texas.  This local approach, however, makes it difficult to have a uniform system of groundwater management in place across the state.

How are GCDs governed?

GCDs are governed by a board of directors who are appointed or elected.  See Texas Water Code Section 36.051.  The Boards hold at least quarterly meetings, which are open to the public and for which notice must be given.  See Texas Water Code Section 36.064.  The Board may also employ a General Manager to operate the affairs of the district subject to orders given by the board.  See Texas Water Code Section 36.051.

Can the public obtain information from GCDs?

The Texas Water Development board website contains information about each Groundwater Conservation District, including contact information, legislation, and current rules.

GCDs are public bodies, and, as such, they are subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act.  These laws allow persons to obtain information from GCDs in the same manner as obtaining information from any other state agency.

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