The Texas-Sized Impact of the 'Prior Appropriations' Water Management System

Christian McPhate and Ashlea Sigman provide a thorough and insightful read about the environmental impacts of Texas' water management policies, especially along the Brazos River, a drought-stricken water supply that cuts across the state.

"The state’s water development board says two-thirds of the state is now grappling with severe to moderate drought, and statewide reservoir storage is the lowest it’s been since 1990," explain McPhate and Sigman in describing the larger context for the article's discussion of the state's water policy controversies.

"As the drought drags on, labyrinthine laws that allocate increasingly scarce water supplies in Texas are setting farmers against manufacturers, community against community, and state agency against state agency."

As its case study, the article focuses on the example of the Brazos River.

"Today, there’s simply not enough water flowing in the Brazos River to satisfy all the water rights claimed by cities, farmers and industry" and "the river is in a death grip…"

The article starts with a poetic nod to Goodbye to a River by John Graves, and goes on to discuss such critical policy issues as the state's "prior appropriations system," which prompted a 2012 lawsuit involving Dow Chemical (in November 2012, the plant’s daily water consumption of 155 million gallons a day far exceeded the 143 million gallons of water used daily by the 1.3 million residents of Dallas).

Following on that expansive coverage, the Dallas News recently published an editorial calling for reform of the "prior appropriations system." According to the editors of the paper, "it makes little sense for Texas to perpetuate an antiquated “prior appropriations system” that guarantees priority downstream water rights to riverside industries based on seniority." The editorial cites research from the Denton Record-Chronicle and graduate journalism students at the University of North Texas to make the case against the same Dow Chemical example examined by McPhate and Sigman.

Full Story: Battling over the Brazos


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