Groundwater in the 85th Legislative Session

Sine Die! The 85th Legislative Session has come to an end. Many bills are awaiting the Governor's signature, but far more died. Although there were numerous groundwater bills filed at the beginning of the 85th Legislative Session, some of which proposed small changes to the state's groundwater laws, and others which attempted to overhaul the entire regulatory structure for groundwater, the vast majority of the bills that were introduced did not pass. Below is an overview of some of the more notable groundwater legislation from the 85th Session.

HB 4122 by Representative Kacal - Needmore Ranch's bill that would have allowed a landowner with over 1,000 acres and within the jurisdiction of two more groundwater districts to transfer into one district; died in the Senate thanks to the hard work of the community and local representatives.

HB 922 by Representative Workman - Creates a groundwater conservation district in a previously unregulated area of southwest Travis County; revived at the last moment by being attached to HB 4345 as an amendment; sent to the Governor

HB 3028 by Representative Burns - Attempted to apply oil and gas law principles such as a landowner's right to a "fair share" of oil and gas to groundwater; died in committee.

HB 3677 by Representative Isaac - Created the Heart of Texas Aquifer District in Blanco, Burnet, Comal, Hays, and Kendall Counties by dissolving local groundwater districts in these areas; died in Committee.

SB 862 by Senator Perry - Required the losing party in a suit against a groundwater conservation district to pay court costs and attorney’s fees; died in committee.

HB 3417 by Representative King - Required groundwater conservation districts to consider impacts to exempt wells; died in committee

HB 2377 by Representative Larson - Authorizes a groundwater district upon petition or its own motion to designate a brackish groundwater production zone where brackish groundwater can be produced without unreasonable negative impacts on groundwater quality or quantity, existing users, and DFCs; sent to the Governor.

SB 1392 by Senator Perry - would have completely overhauled Chapter 36 of the Water Code, eliminated historic use permits, emphasized private property rights, required groundwater districts over the same aquifer to adopt similar rules, and prohibited groundwater districts from placing special conditions on permits; died in committee.

HB 31 by Representative Larson - As originally filed, this bill did three main things: streamlined the administrative review process for groundwater permits, eliminated separate permits for exporting groundwater, and established guidelines under which a groundwater district could issue a moratorium on permits. As session neared the end, this bill became a vehicle for many amendments, including language from SB 1392, ultimately dying in the Senate.

HB 2215 by Representative Price - Amends Chapter 36, Water Code, to update the deadlines for proposing and adopting desired future conditions by groundwater conservation districts to best align the process with the state water planning process. Specifically, the bill requires final adoption of DFCs by GMAs by January 5, 2022, and every 5 years thereafter; sent to the Governor.

HB 3025 by Representative King - Amends the Occupations Code to require a person who possesses a deteriorated well to plug the well within 10 days of learning of its condition. Also amends Chapter 36, Water Code, to incorporate this requirement and authorize a GCD to plug the well if the owner does not do so within the required timeframe. The costs to plug the well can be assessed as a lien on the property where the well is located; sent to the Governor.

SB 1009 by Senator Perry - Amends Chapter 36, Water Code, to limit the list of items a GCD can require for a permit application to what is already listed in statute as well as other information included in a GCD’s rules. The bill prohibits a GCD from requiring any additional information for a determination of administrative completeness; sent to the Governor.