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Groundwater Issues

Examples of Water Ranching From Across Texas

Roberts County, Panhandle Region

The Texas Panhandle is renown for its irrigated agriculture. Its long history of irrigation was made possible by the Ogallala aquifer, which supports 90 percent of the water needs in the Panhandle region. On the whole, the Ogallala is suffering from overuse and the amount of water held in storage is continuing to decline. Roberts County is different than its neighboring counties in that the topography of the land is not conducive to irrigated agriculture. Because of this, its groundwater reserves remain largely untapped. Consequently over the last decade, Roberts County has become the site of water ranching efforts.

One of the more infamous efforts is led by oilman T. Boone Pickens who, through Mesa Water Inc., has amassed the right to pump groundwater from 150,000 acres of land. Potential customers for Mesa are the cities of Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, and maybe even the state of New Mexico. Another water ranching effort is led by the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority (CRMWA). CRMWA controls approximately 43,000 acres of land three miles south of the Mesa property. Lastly, the city of Amarillo has purchased the right to pump groundwater from 72,000 acres of land in Roberts County in an effort to meet some of the city's future demands.

In October 2001, the CRMWA project started production from a field of 27 water wells. The CRMWA water is piped to Lake Meredith and then distributed to 11 different cities, including Amarillo and Lubbock. The city of Amarillo does not intend to begin pumping from its land until after 2025. Mesa was granted their permit in May 2002 and is working to find buyers for the water.

Public Comments & Concerns
Roberts County is part of one of the first groundwater conservation districts created in Texas. With its ability to limit the production rate of water wells, the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District has established a rule of thumb that generally allows landowners to pump an acre-foot of water per acre of land every year. This worked well based on more traditional uses of the land; however, with these new types of users, the rule might need revisiting. A potential problem with these large-scale pumpers is that if they withdraw their allotted amounts simultaneously, the area will witness a much higher rate of aquifer depletion. At stake is future local economic development and the aquifer contribution to essential base-flows in the nearby Canadian River.

For More Information
Contact the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District.

Updated December 2003

Examples of Water Ranching From Across Texas
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