Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

February 1992


Published in Great Plains Research 2:1 (February 1992), pp. 27-50. Copyright © 1992 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Used by permission.


Scientists generally consider all water as merely passing through, but in different phases of, the endless hydrologic cycle. In contrast, the law divides water in the hydrologic cycle into several different classes based on real or supposed physical differences between classes. Legal classes of water are treated separately, usually without consideration of the many interconnections existing between phases of the cycle, and different rules of law have developed concerning the ownership and use of each legal class. Texas courts, like those of other Great Plains jurisdictions, have applied this fragmented classification system, recognizing diverse public and private rights to each class of water. Under such a system, it is obvious that human interference with water in one phase of the cycle can have significant impacts on existing water rights in other phases, a situation especially evident in water-short West Texas, a part of the semi-arid southern Great Plains. Application of this legal system to hydrologic realities has, as one scholar aptly noted, resulted in "a lawyer’s paradise and a logician's nightmare.”