Federal stay prevents flight of Texas water rights

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Editor's Note: Regan Beck is the Assistant General Counsel for Public Policy for the Texas Farm Bureau.

We know that Texas water is a precious resource. We’ve watched our pastures dry up and crops wither following the epic drought we’ve just endured (and continue to see, in many parts of the state). But one U.S. District Court judge wants to restrict our water even more.

U.S. District Court Judge Janis Graham Jack recently sided with an environmental group in its case against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the San Antonio River Authority, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and the Texas Chemical Council. The case accuses the agencies of water management practices that led to the deaths of 23 whooping cranes.

But before it could get too far, a higher federal court stepped in and granted an emergency stay in the case, preventing Judge Jack from shifting control of Texas water to the federal government.

Thank goodness for some common sense. If left unchecked, Judge Jack’s ruling could potentially allow the federal government to dictate what we can and can’t do with our water.

Under the ruling, TCEQ could not approve new water permits. It would require the state agency to jump through hoops to comply with the Endangered Species Act. It also would impose monitoring of water use for domestic and livestock users.

And what about Texas water permit holders? They have vested legal property rights to water for activities like growing crops and fueling business activities. Federal regulation could put a stop to that, too.

Judge Jack believes that federal law preempts state law when regulation takes water away from the whooping cranes. States, not the federal government, regulate their own water. Her ruling—if allowed to stand—could cause a domino effect as other endangered species are listed, allowing all surface water in the state of Texas to come under federal rule.

We’ll keep a watchful eye on the appeals process of this case. This ruling is one of the biggest threats to Texas right now. Access to and management of Texas water is our state’s responsibility—and our right.



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