Chapter overview

This chapter concentrates on Kansas, Nebraska and Texas - the three predominantly agricultural states overlying most of the groundwater in the High Plains aquifer. American states are autonomous and able to devise their own water allocation laws, except as constrained by the US Constitutional provisions that protect property from being taken by the government without compensation and that delegate specific powers to the federal government, such as under the 'interstate commerce clause'. Each of the three states has a unique groundwater law, recognizes water rights as property rights and faces unique issues and problems. They have also developed innovations in groundwater management. Because relevant state boundaries are not based on the boundaries of aquifers or river basins, some interstate tensions have arisen. Moving groundwater from its source to other locations within a state or beyond a state's borders often creates disputes, leading to concern by the public, protective legislation and litigation. However, although Kansas and Nebraska are contiguous states, and Kansas, Nebraska and Texas share the High Plains aquifer, the focus of this chapter is not primarily interstate sharing or disputes over the High Plains aquifer. That issue is broached only briefly in the section on interstate conflict with the state of Kansas, which treats the Republican River Compact conflict.1

This chapter describes a range of state-level issues and responses to groundwater law. It begins with a description of groundwater law, both for the USA in general and for the three states in particular. It then follows with an account of groundwater allocation law problems faced by Kansas due to groundwater mining. The next section addresses recent groundwater issues and innovations in each state: (i) in Kansas, a water reuse project and an aquifer storage and recovery(ASR) project; (ii) in Nebraska, two types of interstate conflicts, one dealing with antiexportation statutes and the other dealing with allocation of an interstate river and the surface water-groundwater interaction with that river; and (iii) in Texas, questions about the continued efficacy of its Rule of Capture groundwater doctrine and about the advisability of moving groundwater long distances within the state. The chapter finally summarizes and draws some conclusions.

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