Want to build a home in the country? A new Texas law may block your access to water

Greg Davis (right) owner of Capstone Construction, checks out progress on construction southwest of Fort Worth. Some of Davis’ properties may no longer qualify for private water wells because of changes in state law.
Greg Davis (right) owner of Capstone Construction, checks out progress on construction southwest of Fort Worth. Some of Davis’ properties may no longer qualify for private water wells because of changes in state law.

Some people invest their savings in the stock market.

Greg Davis buys vacant properties on Fort Worth’s outskirts, and builds custom homes on them — then sells them to buyers who want their own slice of country lifestyle while still living a short drive from the big city.

His small business is known as Capstone Construction.

But Davis says he is worried that a new law regulating water well drilling — a water conservation rule that took effect late last year — may cost him much of his life savings. And, he said the new regulation could pose a threat to anyone who dreams of building a new house in rural areas on the edges of the North Texas metropolitan area.

“I’m all about conserving water, but you can’t rob people of their investment and their livelihood,” Davis said on a recent morning visiting the area where he owns property — a place known as Pyramid Acres, a sprawling development along U.S. 377 and south of Benbrook. The area is about 20 miles southwest of downtown Fort Worth.

“At the very least, you have to inform people about changes this big,” he said. “And there has been zero communication.”

The portion of the new rules that Davis and other home builders are concerned about generally prohibits a property owner from digging a new private water well within 200 feet of an existing well.

The new rules were approved Dec. 17 by the Northern Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. That agency was created by the state Legislature in a series of moves dating back to 2006 to preserve the state’s dwindling supply of water stored in underground aquifers.

It’s an issue that may be unfamiliar to many Tarrant County residents, the overwhelming majority of whom get their water from municipal pipes. But in more rural areas beyond the reach of municipal water systems, it’s common for homeowners to dig private wells.

One of Greg Davis’ Capstone Homes under construction southwest of Fort Worth. This home has a water well, but adjacent properties might not be eligible for one because of state law changes. Gordon Dickson

Davis says he owns 18 residential lots southwest of Fort Worth — each roughly 150 feet deep and 100 feet wide, or big enough to put about three homes per acre. He said that under the new rules he can only drill a water well on two of those lots, because the other lots would be too close to existing water wells.

That means the other 16 lots would not be suitable for home construction, which would dramatically decrease their value, he said.

Davis said he had no idea about the new water well rules until early January, when a colleague who works for a different builder applied for a well permit and was verbally told his property wouldn’t qualify. Davis himself hasn’t yet had a water well permit rejected under the new rules.

But Bob Patterson, general manager of Northern Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, said his agency isn’t trying to stop development of residential areas. Instead, the group is trying to prevent the wells that already exist in southwest Fort Worth from running dry.

“We have water wells in that area that were getting 10 to 12 gallons a minute routinely, and now those same wells are getting less than three gallons a minute,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “We try to work with individual lot owners and try to help them find a way to drill a well in a way that will not interfere with their neighbor’s well.”

Patterson added that no water well applications had been rejected yet in the area of southwest Fort Worth where Davis’ properties are. He said much of the concern among property owners may be resolved once they go through the permitting process.

But Patterson also acknowledged that the solution for some property owners may be to drill a well deeper into the earth to tap an aquifer that isn’t depleting — and for some property owners, that could lead to expenses of several thousand dollars in unexpected costs per lot.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.