A policy proposal for regional aquifer-scale management of groundwater in Texas
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Management of groundwater as a common pool resource relies heavily on an institutional design that is fitted to the aquifers to be managed and is scaled to provide efficient and effective governance. Texas has committed to a decentralized system of groundwater management through Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) that offers a high level of local control and area-specific adaptability. However, increasing pressures on the state’s groundwater resources coupled with a strong local aversion to outsider interference has resulted in a proliferation of small single-county GCDs that are neither well fitted to the aquifer systems nor sufficiently scaled to be efficient or effective. In recognition of these challenges, the persistent response has been a slow transition towards larger-scale management. Although a full transition to centralization via state control is not likely to be politically feasible, it would also be limited in its effectiveness, recognizing the wide diversity of climate conditions, water use patterns, growth projections, and aquifer characteristics that exist across the state. Regionalization is offered as a policy proposal for an institutional arrangement and scale of groundwater governance that provides a balance between centralization and decentralization, using institutions that are better fitted to the aquifer systems and appropriately scaled to provide sufficient funding and resources. The merits and logic of regionalized groundwater management have been recognized as demonstrated by the establishment of the joint regional-planning process within aquifer-based Groundwater Management Areas (GMAs), using GCD representatives as the de facto regional groundwater planners. However, the new unfunded mandates for which the already underfunded GCDs are now responsible and the extraordinary planning process complexity that has developed may prove to be unworkable. This realization compels consideration of management through regional authorities designed using the ready-made framework of the GMAs and principles gleaned from successful models of regionalization from other states and within Texas. Such regional authorities, if provided with sufficient resources and authority, would respect the logic of fit and scale and would be better equipped to address the current and future groundwater management challenges in Texas.
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