In Other Words
Prior Appropriation Doctrine
In Texas, water rights depend on whether the water is groundwater or surface water. Groundwater generally belongs to the landowner, who has a legal right to capture the water beneath their property. Surface water rights, on the other hand, are governed by the doctrine of prior appropriation. Prior appropriation, which is followed by most western states, is defined as “first in time, first in right.” Or in other words, prior appropriation means “first come, first served.” Basically, the first person to receive a permit to put water to beneficial use has a senior water right that is superior to all holders of junior water rights. In times of water shortage, a senior water right holder will receive all of the water to which he or she is entitled before a user with a junior right will get any water.