A substitute for Texas HB 3656 would put an end to a lawsuit filed by the city of Uvalde, the Uvalde County Underground Water Conservation District and other parties against the Edwards Aquifer Authority over the status of base water rights. The compromise bill, hammered out in the House Natural Resources Committee, has won support from key stake holders, which makes it a win, win for everyone and the end to a suit that has cost almost $500,000.
The lawsuit was triggered after the EAA board voted in December of 2017 to modify rules governing the conversion of base irrigation groundwater in the event of development on a permit holder’s land. Unfortunately, the new rules reduced the evidence necessary to demonstrate why historically irrigated land was no longer practical to be farmed and shortened the time period required for land not to have been farmed from five years to three.
Parties to the lawsuit charged that Senate Bill 1477, which created the EAA in 1993, stipulated that while irrigators who could prove historical use would receive 2 acre feet of Edwards water for each acre farmed, 1 acre foot must remain attached to the land in perpetuity.
The bill that was voted out of the House Natural Resources Committee Tuesday allows for the transfer (or sale) of the base water from the property that it is attached to under two conditions: When the property is development or when it has not been irrigated for five years and irrigation is no longer viable. In either case, the criteria is defined by statue and not by the looser rules that had been approved by the EAA board of directors.
The compromise for those bringing the suit includes dropping “county of origin” language, which would have prevented the transfer of water outside Uvalde or Medina counties and agreeing to a provision that validates the EAA’s prior transfers under their own rules.
Some have argued that the lawsuit was a waste of taxpayer dollars because Uvalde County has not seen the kind of run away development that is occurring in western Bexar and eastern Medina counties. While it is true about the pace of development here, we feel confident that by playing the legal card our county has awakened the EAA to the fact that their elected representatives are not in a position to unilaterally alter rules while ignoring the intent of state law.
In our view, that is an important brick in a wall that will not go unchallenged in the future but for the time being has been reinforced. For that we commend the proactive efforts of our city and county officials and state Rep. Tracy King of Uvalde who – as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee – helped to steer stakeholders toward a useful compromise.