The Uvalde County Underground Water Conservation District and co-plaintiffs George and Carolyn Ligocky filed suit last Tuesday in 38th Judicial District Court, charging that a recent rule change adopted by the Edwards Aquifer Authority violates the mandate of the Texas Legislature to protect irrigation and agricultural interests in the region.
The suit comes in response to a rule change voted by the EAA board of directors last December that would make it easier for Edwards Aquifer permit holders to sell 100 percent of their water. Senate Bill 1477, which created the EAA, stipulated that irrigators who could prove historical use would receive a permit for 2 acre feet of Edwards water. The law further specified that permit holders could sell or lease half of those water rights, but the last acre foot, the base irrigation groundwater, must remain with the land.
“If the Edwards Aquifer Authority rule were to remain in place, over the long term the only remaining farms in our area would be ant farms,” said Vic Hilderbran, UCUWCD general manager, in a press release submitted by Harold Cook on behalf of the district.
“The rule has the potential to break the back of the local Uvalde County agri-business climate and stifle area economic development, because it favors the thirsty urban communities of the EAA region.”
State Rep. Tracy O. King, D-Batesville, who represents the area in the Texas Legislature, also weighed in on EAA’s lack of authority to make the rule change.
“In this legislative district, water is a key resource, and I am unconvinced that the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s rule change is supported by the authority the legislature granted them. Before any of my constituents are adversely affected, or business interests in my district harmed, this issue absolutely needs to be fully vetted,” King said in the press release.
“The state legislature did not empower the Edwards Aquifer Authority to alter a provision of state law and we have a high level of confidence that the courts will agree with us,” said Celina Romero, attorney for the UCUWCD and the Ligockys.
“We are not surprised by the action taken by the Uvalde County Underground Water Conservation District, and we stand by our position that governmental entities are required to acknowledge the private property rights that exist in groundwater as the courts and lawmakers have determined,” said EAA board chairman Luana Buckner. “Our Base Irrigation Groundwater conversion rules, which are the subject of this lawsuit, were developed 17 years ago and have evolved over time as an accommodation of those property rights so that owners of this type of groundwater could continue to exercise their rights if and when economic and market influences changed the nature of their property so that it could no longer be farmed. We look forward to defending this position on behalf of holders of Edwards groundwater rights.”
The suit asks the court to permanently enjoin the EAA from taking future actions under the rules that are being challenged.