Water Conservation and Irrigation Law

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I had an evening seminar a couple of weeks ago covering landscape irrigation. To say it was poorly attended would be an understatement.

What seemed like a good idea last fall when I planned out my yearly roster of programs, didn’t hold up. Who knew that we would be getting lots of rain?

That evening I spoke first on how you can make your existing landscape irrigation system more efficient. Set your timer for the early morning and consider changing your sprinkler heads to the more efficient spray patterns. I also bragged about the rain sensors that would delay irrigation if your hardscape had just gotten some rain.

Perhaps the best tip discussed is the “soak and cycle” method. If that is a new phrase to you, be sure to study up the “soak and cycle” for your irrigations system. Doing that will give your lawn and beds a good, deep drink of water and keep you from sending water down the curb into the gutter.

In preparing for my talk, I know I needed to be up to date on some of the rules and regulations regarding home irrigation systems. I taught about how to set up an above ground drip irrigation system from some simple products available at local nurseries.

Now, I’m not an attorney. Heck, I don’t even play one on television. So please don’t’ take the following as you ever need to know regarding landscape irrigation law.

There are some serious laws regarding who can install and repair irrigation systems. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is Texas’ version of the Environmental Protection Agency at the national level. Under their jurisdiction, you have to be licensed to install almost any irrigation system.

According to Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 30, “A person may not sell, design, install, maintain, alter, repair, service or inspect an irrigation system – or consult in these activities- in this state, unless the person is licensed by the TCEQ.” As with some laws there is a couple of exemptions and one exemption is that you can if you are a gardener or agriculturalist on property you own.

But we have to take it one step further. Some municipalities (Lufkin being one of them) say that even though you may be exempt by the state, you are required to apply for a permit (just like a building permit) and hire a licensed technician to inspect it IF a portion of it is underground.

Why all the rules to water you yard, you ask? At issue is the safety of the public water supply. If you put together a pressurized irrigation system incorrectly and some of the water in your system gets back into the city water supply, it is possible to contaminate city water.

Water law is interesting. In general, water laws (who owns it and who can gather it) are set and governed by states, as opposed to the federal government. Texas residents enjoy a goodly amount of freedom regarding water rights. You are allowed by Texas law to harvest rainwater. In fact, the practice is harvesting rainwater to use in the landscape is even encouraged by our state with tax credits and tax exemptions at certain times.

On the contrary, my understanding is that Colorado residents are generally not allowed to harvest rainwater that drips off of the roof as it has “the potential to withhold water from users that have senior water rights” under Colorado law.

Many years ago, the Lufkin Daily News wrote an editorial entitled something like “Lufkin’s Water Problem”. The tongue in cheek title of the editorial was that that Lufkin residents are so blessed by normally abundant rainfall and exceptional planning by city leaders regarding abundant supplies of municipal water supplies that they didn’t realize that there was a shortage of water across the state during a terrible drought.

Our state representatives have dealt with the wondering eyes from other parts of our state and how they would love to take a part of the water resources we so enjoy.

Indeed, we are blessed with more than adequate rainfall (during the majority of each year) and have a well thought out supply of groundwater for city residents. We can have incredible landscapes because of our abundance of water.

Nevertheless, let us all remember to use this resource wisely. Water is a limited resource. I suppose we could approach this from another way- – keep you water bills low and save yourself some money. During summer months when we typically do see a spike in water usage in the landscape, you can save money by implementing water conservation measures.

Author

Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

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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