Who Controls the Groundwater Under Our Feet?

This past summer, I was given the cool opportunity to intern for the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District. I did activities like write blogs, manage HPWD’s social media, and attend board meetings.

Obviously, throughout my time at HPWD I learned a lot about groundwater conservation districts and how they operate, but what I found most interesting was the number of people who had absolutely no idea what a groundwater conservation district was when I told them where I worked.

“Oh, you work for the city, right?” and “Can you do something about my water bill this month?” were questions I got often.

HPWD and other districts throughout Texas are instrumental in the conservation of our most precious resource and I think they deserve a little more recognition. Let’s start off by defining what exactly a groundwater conservation district is.

What is an Underground Water Conservation District?

Officially, a GDC is a boundary of land created under Texas Constitution, Article III, Section 52 or Article XVI, Section 59 that has the authority to regulate the spacing of water wells, the production from water wells, or both. They are also responsible for the protection, preservation and conservation of aquifers within the district’s service area.

In Texas, there are 98 groundwater conservation districts and all are required to create and implement a management plan for the use of their ground water resources. The Texas Water Development Board approves these plans.

GCDs come in many shapes and sizes. The Red Sands GCD is the smallest district, which covers about 114 square miles. The HPWD is the largest district and covers about 11,940 square miles, according to the HPWD website.

About HPWD

It’s easier to explain what exactly GCDs do when we can focus on one district and describe its functions. Lubbock is home to the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District. The HPWD was created in March 1951, making it the first district created.

The HPWD is governed by a five-member board of directors who are elected by residents in each of the district director’s precincts. The directors oversee district operations, programs and activities, as well as attending monthly board meetings and approving final water well permit applications. Each director serves a four-year term.

Map of 98 the current groundwater conservation districts in Texas. Image credit: HPWD website.

The district operates over three aquifers. The Ogallala, Edwards-Trinity, and Dockum aquifers. The Ogallala Aquifer is the major aquifer which underlies all the district’s service area. It is one of the largest aquifers in the world, covering around 174,000 square miles. The Edwards-Trinity and Dockum aquifers are minor aquifers in the district.


HPWD provides the public with many programs and services such as annual water level reports, interactive maps, well permitting, newsletters and magazines, and educational contests. The public can use these programs to learn about new practices and technology in the water conservation industry. These programs especially help farmers who are irrigating crops and keeping a close eye on water levels.

Annual water level reports

Each year, HPWD puts together an annual report detailing the change in water levels throughout the 16-county district. Information is taken from 1,422 water level observation wells to determine if water levels have dropped, risen or stayed the same. Farmers and ranchers can use this information to see patterns in water levels around them and plan accordingly for the upcoming year.

Well Permitting

According to the HPWD website, landowners are required to apply for a permit prior to drilling and production of water of any well expected to produce 17.5 gallons of water per minute or more.

To acquire a permit, a citizen must provide:

  • The landowner’s name, address, and telephone number.
  • The applicant’s name, address and phone number.
  • The legal description of the property including the aquifer into which the well will be drilled.

Then, a field technician will meet the applicant at the proposed well site to identify the proposed well site, property line, and pay a fee of $250.

Lastly, the applicant must sign the permit application. Once the permit application is signed, district personnel will finalize the permit to be approved/not approved by the district’s general manager and board of directors.

Magazines and Newsletters

HPWD’s annual publication, the Conservation Connect, is done to showcase the water conservation efforts of individuals throughout the district. Articles in the magazine cover a variety of topics such as adoption of new technologies, education of practices, and new trends in the industry.

On that same note, The Cross Section is HPWD’s bi-weekly newsletter to present the plans and functions of the district.

H2You Contest  

Every year HPWD gives high school students within the district an opportunity to share their ideas on how to save water. Students form a team, create a campaign, write a proposal, and present their presentation to be submitted for judgement. Winners receive a scholarship and an all-expense paid trip to Austin.

HPWD Building
Outside of HPWD’s Lubbock office located at 2930 Ave. Q. Photo by Keni Reese.

Groundwater conservation districts throughout the state provide valuable services to the citizens in their districts. Water is arguably our most vital resource and it is important to have services, like the ones HPWD provides, to teach the public about conservation. For more information about groundwater conservation districts, go to www.hpwd.org or http://www.twdb.texas.gov/.