March 2010 Vol. 108 No. 5 THE REVIEW

Antiques Roadshow: The Common Law and the Coming Age of Groundwater Marketing

Dean Baxtresser

Groundwater law in the United States is ill suited to deal with the issue of groundwater marketing. As freshwater shortages become more common with increasing population and a warming climate, scholars and business people are touting water markets as the solution to conservation and distribution, as well as a source of hefty profits. T. Boone Pickens-the famous oil tycoon of Texas-has turned this concept into reality with his attempt to exploit the groundwater of the Ogallala Aquifer in the Texas Panhandle for thirsty Texas cities. Despite the looming water shortages, however, states have not adapted their laws to deal with the marketing issue. As a result, the legality of groundwater marketing like the Pickens Plan is currently decided by outdated laws that were never meant to deal with groundwater marketing. In general, groundwater marketing is only legal where the law permits off-tract use-an old distinction that bears no relationship to the policy issues that must be raised by state legislatures to seriously address upcoming severe water shortages. This Note examines the various legal doctrines in the United States governing groundwater and determines that, whether for or against water marketing, states should affirmatively address the policy issues presented by the potential of marketing by updating their laws so that they can deal with the new paradigm of high-value groundwater in a thirsty age.

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