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Few groundwater bills filed this session, March 22, 2019

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

With the March 9 bill filing deadline behind us, we are officially in the heat of legislative session.

More than 7,000 pieces of legislation have been filed.

The most popular subjects include public education, property tax system, and recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

With such a strong emphasis on flooding and surface water issues, a less than normal amount of groundwater legislation was ultimately filed.

The hot topics in groundwater policy include:

Brackish Groundwater Development & Permitting

Following the passage of House Bill 30 (84R), the Texas Water Development Board has been researching and identifying Brackish Groundwater Production Zones.

Legislation filed this session seeks to mandate a new permitting process for access to brackish groundwater within the Brackish Groundwater Production Zones.

In the HPWD service area, the Dockum Aquifer is currently being studied for Brackish Groundwater Production Zones.

Depending on the legislature’s continued funding of the study, the Texas Water Development Board is expected to complete the Dockum study in two to five years.

Attorney’s Fees In GCD Litigation

Under current law, if a groundwater conservation district prevails in a lawsuit, the district may seek and the court shall grant payment of the district’s attorney’s fees and court costs.

Multiple pieces of legislation were filed to try and make attorney’s fees for the district permissive, or allow the prevailing party (on either side of the litigation) the opportunity to be reimbursed for their fees.

Every bill filed that addresses attorney’s fees legislation also places a cap on the amount of attorney’s fees a court may grant.

GCD Permitting Processes

The filed GCD permitting legislation this session seeks to continue the discussion of “similar rules” over a common aquifer, and whether or not GCDs are still the preferred method for managing groundwater in the State of Texas.

Generally speaking, the legislation filed seeks to ensure that groundwater conservation districts, through their local permitting processes, are efficiently balancing groundwater private property rights with conservation.

The next phase of the legislative session will predominately focus on committee hearings.

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