Thursday, March 7, 2013
Owen on Taking Groundwater
Dave Owen (Maine) has posted Taking Groundwater. The abstract:
In February, 2012, in a case called Edwards Aquifer Authority v. Day, the Texas Supreme Court held that landowners hold property rights to the groundwater beneath their land, and that a regulatory restriction on groundwater use could constitute a taking of private property. The decision provoked strong reactions, both positive and negative, throughout the world of water law, for it signaled the possibility of severe restrictions on governmental ability to regulate groundwater use.
This Article considers the deeper issue that confronted the Texas Supreme Court, and that has confronted other courts across the country: how should the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and parallel clauses of state constitutions, apply to groundwater use regulation? Initially, this Article explains why this issue is exceedingly and increasingly important. It then reviews all of the groundwater/takings decisions from federal and state courts in the United States. Finally, the Article considers the implications of foundational property theories for the application of takings doctrine to groundwater use.
The analysis supports two key conclusions. First, it undermines arguments against treating water rights as “constitutional property” — that is, property protected by federal and state takings clauses. Proponents of those arguments generally assert that treating water rights as property has uneven support from prior caselaw and that such treatment will be prevent sensible governance. A review of groundwater caselaw demonstrates that the former assertion runs counter to the weight of authority, and that the fears underlying the latter argument are overstated. Second, and more importantly, the analysis undermines arguments for granting groundwater use rights heightened protection against regulatory takings. Recently, litigants and commentators skeptical of government regulatory authority have widely advanced those arguments. But they find no support in past groundwater/takings caselaw, and no property theory justifies adopting such an approach.
An important issue, and a reminder that state supreme courts continue to play a crucial role in shaping modern property law.