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The Guadalupe River as it meanders to the sea Jake Bernstein The application gives SMRF a seat at the table with the water merchants who plot Central Texas’ future. It’s a pride of place the environ ment has never occupied before. By championing a private property right for the environment, SMRF ironically places lawmakers and regulators in the uncomfortable position of repudiating the very system upon which they rely. ommended 1.15 million acre-feet of water \(an acre foot is equal to 12 inches of water productivity in the bay ecosystem. The amount far exceeds what the TNRCC is earmarking toward the bays. “They kept on granting water rights without looking at the studies they generated,” complains Wassenich. Part of the problem originates with Texas’ archaic water system that dates to the 1800s, before basic science like connections between surface and groundwater were incontrovertible. In the Lone Star State all surface water belongs to the government, and a person can only remove water once the TNRCC issues a permit. The agency cannot allocate water someone else has already claimed. Thus Texas water rights place more of a premium on when someone obtained their right to use water than how it’s used. The doctrine in this regard is summed up in the saying, “first in time equals first in right.” The rights of the newest permit holder are “junior” to all those who came before, which means, with some exceptions in times of scarcity, junior water rights are at the back of the line. As SMRF fretted about the river and the estuaries, the board had been studying a legislative innovation called the Texas Water Trust. Those who have water rights they aren’t using or don’t need can either donate or temporarily put them in the water trust. Theoretically this will keep the liquid in the river. \(Even though the trust was set up in because someone with an old irrigation right had donated five acre-feet of water to the foundation and they didn’t know what to do with it. As they investigated, Wassenich learned of a Hill Country resident who had filed an application for an acre-foot of water to ensure that a local creek kept on flowing. Under Texas water law, one can apply for a permit based on a variety of uses, from municipal to cattle raising to freshwater inflows for bays and estuaries. As they talked and prepared the newsletter for the post office, someone suggested that they apply to the TNRCC for a water right permit for the Guadalupe River that would be big enough to ensure the bay remained healthy. This way, they could guarantee no one else would claim the water before it reached the estuaries. Fortuitously, in the 1998 Parks and Wildlife study the state itself had put a figure on how much water the bay needed, so they wouldn’t be picking an arbitrary number. Borrowing against its endowment, SMRF raised the $50,000 fee the TNRCC requires to apply for a permit. That July the environmental group asked the agency for 1.15 million acre-feet a year to be left in the river, either in the water trust or under the custodi 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 6/21/02