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Fences, water rights, land leases and other legal challenges for landowners

Agriculture business ventures provide freedom, challenges and opportunities like few other business ventures. Entrance is relatively easy as anyone can by livestock or plant an acre of some crop to get in the business of raising food and fiber.

But understanding the laws and regulations around land ownership is a more difficult matter.

Consider the laws regarding fencing. While Texas is an “open range” state, most counties (including Angelina) have voted to be a “closed range” county. In a closed range county, livestock owners are required to fence in their livestock and not permit them to run at large and onto others’ property.

In “open range” counties, it is the landowner’s responsibility to maintain fences to keep other’s livestock from getting onto their property!

And what about your neighbors tree whose limbs are across the fence? Indeed, you can trim them back to the property line provided no damage to the adjoining landowner occurs.

Leasing land for many landowners is done by good folks with a simple handshake agreement. But leasing of land without clarifying expectations and responsibilities can lead to a headache. Too many times I get called by one side or another to settle a legal question on a lease that wasn’t addressed in the original agreement. Make no mistake, I don’t try to intervene. At best, a new understanding between the lessor and the lessee is reached. At the worst, an expensive legal battle ensues.

Water is also a big issue from time to time. Even though the Waters of the United State (WOTUS) regulations have been put on the backburner at the federal level, there are still lots of questions. Can you dam up a named creek to build a pond? What happens if you build a pond dam that limits the water flowing downstream onto another property? Who owns the water in the stream bed on your property?

Even the water under your ground has regulations. Yes, ground water belongs to the surface owner, but have you registered your old well with the Pineywoods Groundwater Conservation District? If not in the system and on the map, then when a neighboring landowner wants to sink a large water well that might run yours dry, they’ll be allowed to do so because there will be no known conflict.

Lastly, there is estate planning. Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging for the disposal of an estate during a person’s life. There are smart ways to prepare the inevitable distribution of your loved one’s inheritance. Ignore it and you are inviting the court system in to determine your kid’s inheritance!

To address these and other legal topics, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will be presenting a seminar entitled “Land, Water & Wealth: A Legal Symposium for East Texas Agriculture” later this month on Friday, May 18 at the Angelina County Office. This is an all-day seminar with lunch included.

This seminar will be an all-day program at the Angelina County Extension office. Valuable information on water law, eminent domain, estate planning, and negotiating agricultural leases are to be covered. Cost is $30 per person or $50 per couple. Call 936.634.6414 ext. 0 by May 11 to reserve a seat and for more information.


Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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