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Water Rights Becoming Issue In Light Of Texas Drought

In January of 2012, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued a notice to multiple groups in the Texas Sabine River Basin. Sources say these groups were told that their rights to the river water will be suspended because a hunting and fishing club needs more water. Legal sources say the move was made because according to Texas law the club's right predates the others.

Legal experts say that the actions of the TCEQ are only the latest story unprecedented fight between surface water right holders in the state of Texas. According to legal experts, citizens with older water rights can inform the TCEQ of their necessity for more water, which trumps junior (or more recent) water right holders along the same river. Many Texans are learning that when droughts make water scarce the seniority of water rights is an important bargaining chip within the region.

Many legal scholars say that the recent drought has brought the relatively obscure water rights laws to the forefront of public debate. Scholars say the oldest Texas water rights were claimed in the 18th century when Texas was a colony of Spain. Sources say some droughts in the past have caused the senior water right holders to flex their muscles, but the current numbers are unprecedented. Reportedly, more than 1,200 water rights permits in Texas have been suspended or curtailed as of late. Sources say the Brazos, Guadalupe, Colorado, Sabine and Neches river basins have all been affected by the increase. Further, sources say with 99.5 percent of Texas still dealing with the ongoing drought, the junior vs. senior water right struggles will probably continue.

Reportedly, TCEQ's recent decision in the Sabine River Basin will mean less water for a local flood control project, recreational purposes and irrigation. Reportedly, in the Neches River Basin, many water users have also been affected. According to the TCEQ, water rights were completely curtailed to several groups using the water for recreation, agriculture irrigation, industry and mining.

Legal sources say the Texas system is not unusual and that "first in right, first in style" system of water rights is widely accepted west of the Mississippi. Expert's says that this system has both good and bad aspects. For example, it protects those who already have land from newcomers taking water which they rely on. However, the system is widely criticized because it does not consider the importance of use.

However, the system is being changed in some aspects. According to reports, the TCEQ has decided that water rights holders could not trump a city or power plant's need for water. Legal sources say that the TCEQ can ask cities with junior water rights to mandate outdoor watering restrictions. However, legal authorities have also said that legislation passed last year has given the TCEQ the power to suspend or make changes to the water rights system during times of drought.

If you have any questions about your water rights or insurance claims arising from the drought, please contact our legal team for a free initial consultation at 1-877-892-2797.