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When can a property owner refuse access to local water?

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2024 | Water Law |

The climate in Texas makes water access crucial to many types of businesses. From agricultural operations to industrial facilities, both property owners and business executives may need to ensure that there is reliable access to local water sources. Depending on the location of a business property and other factors, there are a host of different water rights rules that may apply. Texas has always taken a protective stance toward water rights and public use.

As such, private ownership of water sources isn’t always possible. For example, private property owners cannot block water access on navigable streams and rivers even if they own the land on both sides of the banks of the waterway. Sometimes, there is groundwater or a non-navigable stream that could provide water for a company or farmer. When can a landowner refuse someone access to their private sources of water?

Non-navigable waterways can be private property

Whether a private property owner can deny others access to local water resources or not often largely depends on the size of the waterway involved. Navigable rivers and streams have protection under Texas law. People can access, traverse and fish in those navigable waterways regardless of what adjacent property owners might prefer.

The same is not necessarily true of non-navigable streams. The difference between what is navigable and what is not can be difficult to establish. Often, streams that are seasonal and that may dry up during dryer or warmer seasons may not be navigable for the purposes of water rights. The same is true of waterways that are so narrow or shallow that boats or floating logs cannot pass through them.

It can be a challenge to establish whether a stream or other water source is subject to Texas’s water rights laws when a property owner persistently refuses people access. Property owners, especially those who rely on local water supply for their personal use or agricultural operations, may oppose a neighbor’s request to use or collect water. Occasionally, it may be necessary to go to court to ensure water access rights as a Texas property owner. Obtaining information about water rights could help property owners determine what options they may have for ensuring access to a local water supply.

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