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Groundwater conservation districts

drainage restorationGroundwater is and will continue to be a major source of water for Texas. However, in many parts of the state, more groundwater is being used than is being replenished through natural means. If this practice continues, Texas water costs will rise, land could subside, water quality could decline and people in some areas could run out of water.

To address this problem, the Texas Legislature has provided a way for groundwater resources to be managed and protected locally, through the creation of groundwater conservation districts (GCDs). A GCD is a local unit of government authorized by the Texas Legislature and ratified at the local level to manage and protect groundwater.

Groundwater conservation districts were first created in Texas in 1949. In 1951, the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District became the first local district. In 1985, 1997 and 2001, the Texas Legislature passed additional laws to encourage the establishment of more GCDs. This legislation is codified in Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code. The water code stresses the importance and responsibility of GCDs in developing and implementing comprehensive management plans to conserve and protect groundwater resources.

Links to existing GCDs are available through the Texas Water Development Board.

Creation of a Groundwater Conservation District

There are four procedures by which a GCD can be created in Texas. Most districts are created by action of the Texas Legislature. Registered voters within the proposed district must confirm the creation of the GCD, appoint its directors and set its tax rates in an election, except where noted below.

Action of the Legislature. New GCDs can be formed through special legislation, which is usually introduced by a local senator or representative. The bill usually addresses district financing, names temporary directors and establishes procedures for elections.

The temporary directors are responsible for holding the elections to form the district, electing the board members and authorizing the use of taxes to finance operations if applicable.

Petition by property owners. Local landowners may petition the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to form a groundwater conservation district. The petition must be signed be a majority of the landowners in the proposed district, or contain at least 50 signatures if the area has more than 50 landowners. The petition must name temporary directors who will be responsible for holding the confirmation election.

The TCEQ reviews the petition for statutory compliance and issues a "notice" of petition. Within 60 days of issuing the notice, the TCEQ holds a public meeting within the area of the proposed district. Within 90 days of the public meeting, the TCEQ must certify the petition as administratively complete if the signatures and petition content meet the statutory requirements.

The TCEQ may not certify a petition if it finds that the proposed GCD cannot be adequately funded, the proposed GCD boundaries do not provide for effective management of groundwater resources, or the proposed GCD is not in a designated groundwater management area.

Initiation by the TCEQ. If local landowners do not take action to create a groundwater conservation district in a priority groundwater management area, the TCEQ can create one. Then an election will be held to confirm directors and taxation. If the tax proposition is not approved, the district will be financed through production fees.

Addition of territory to an existing district. A landowner or group of landowners can petition an existing GCD's board of directors to be annexed into that district. Single landowner requests may be approved by the board; for larger groups or entire counties, the annexation must be approved by the directors, public hearings must be held and the addition must be confirmed by voters.

Responsibilities of a Groundwater Conservation District

Most districts work to prevent waste, collect data, educate people about water conservation and prevent irreparable harm to the aquifer.

By law, GCDs must develop a groundwater management plan. A management plan outlines the GCD's goals and the steps needed to reach those goals. The plan must be developed in coordination with appropriate surface water management entities.

The goals of a management plan are to:

  • Provide for the most efficient use of groundwater.
  • Control and prevent waste of groundwater.
  • Control and prevent subsidence.
  • Address conjunctive surface water issues.
  • Address natural resources issues.
  • Address drought conditions.
  • Address conservation.

To meet these goals, the GCD must:

  • Identify performance standards and management objectives.
  • Specify the actions, procedures, performance and avoidance necessary to implement the plan.

There are mandated duties of a GCD. By law, each GCD must:

  • Develop and adopt a management plan and coordinate planning with regional planning groups, state agencies and other GCDs.
  • Adopt the rules needed to implement the plan.
  • Keep records of drilling, equipping and completing of water wells, and the production and use of groundwater.
  • Permit and register certain wells.
  • Adopt rules for governance and establish administrative and financial procedures. These include operating on the basis of a fiscal year, preparing and approving an annual budget, having an annual audit, holding regular board meetings and submitting records to the appropriate Texas agencies.

All GCD meetings are subject to the Texas open meeting and open records requirements.

What relationship does the size of a district have with respect to the land area above the aquifer?

Aquifers have no political boundaries. They are based on geological formation. Groundwater conservation districts are generally based on county lines. Because most groundwater conservation districts do not cover an entire aquifer, an aquifer may be managed by several GCDs. Each district must plan with the other districts within their common groundwater management areas.

What is the difference between a groundwater management area and a groundwater conservation district?

A groundwater management area is a geological area that is suitable for the management of groundwater resources. It is like a river basin for surface water. Groundwater management areas generally coincide with the boundaries of aquifers.

A groundwater conservation district is a political entity whose boundaries may or may not coincide with aquifer boundaries.

Often more than one GCD is located in a groundwater management area. If a GCD is in a shared groundwater management area, then each district must consider the plans of the other districts. The GCD may call for joint planning of the other districts in the area.

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