The Spanish Element in Texas Water Law

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The Spanish Element in Texas Water Law

By Betty Eakle Dobkins

A history of how Spanish law influenced the development of Texas water law.



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6 x 9 | 208 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-73967-3

The Spanish element in Texas water law is a matter of utmost importance to many landholders whose livelihood is dependent on securing water for irrigation and to many communities particularly concerned about water supply.

Titles to some 280,000 acres of Texas land originated in grants made by the Crown of Spain or by the Republic of Mexico. For these lands, the prevailing law, even today, is the Hispanic American civil law. Thus the question of determining just what water rights were granted by the Spanish Crown in disposing of lands in Texas is more than a matter of historical interest. It is a subject of great practical importance.

Spanish law enters directly into the question of these lands, but its influence is by no means confined to them. Texas water law in general traces its roots primarily to the Spanish law, not to the English common law doctrine of riparian rights or to the Western doctrine of prior appropriation (both of which were, however, eventually incorporated in Texas law). A clear understanding of this background might have saved the state much of the current confusion and chaos regarding its water law.

Dobkins’s book offers an intensive and unusually readable study of the subject. The author has traced water law from its origin in the ancient world to the mid-twentieth century, interpreting the effect of water on the counties concerned, setting forth in detail the development of water law in Spain, and explaining its subsequent adoption in Texas. Copious notes and a complete bibliography make the work especially valuable.

The idea for this book came in the midst of the great seven-year drought in Texas, from 1950 to 1957. The author gave two reasons for her study: “One was my belief that the water problems, crucial to all Texas, can be solved only when Texans become conscious of their imperative needs and only if they become informed and aroused enough to act.

“The second reason came from a realization that water—common, universal, and ordinary as it is—had been overlooked by the historian. It is high time that this oversight be corrected. In American history the significance of land, especially in terms of the frontier, has been spelled out in large letters. The importance of water has been recognized by few.”

List of Spanish Land Measures

Chapter I. Texas, Water, Law
Water and Texas
Water Law
Texas Water Law

Chapter II. Water Laws and Institutions in the Ancient World
The Near East
Roman Water Laws and Institutions
Roman Water Works
Roman Law
Roman Water Law

Chapter III. Development of Water Law in Spain
The Land and Its Influence on Spanish History
Water Law and Institutions in Spain
Ancient Period: The Romans and the Moors
Development of Water Law in Medieval Spain
Spanish Water Law at the End of the Colonial Period

Chapter IV. Hispanic-American Water Laws and Institutions
The Spanish Basis of Hispanic-American Institutions and Modifications in the New World
New Spain: The Land and the People
Hispanic-American Water Laws and Institutions: Principles
Hispanic-American Water Laws and Institutions: The Texas Experience
Spanish Texas
Irrigation in Spanish Texas
Administration of Waters: The Role of the Royal Government
Administration of Waters: Local Government

Chapter V. Spanish Water Law in Texas, 1821–1958
Spanish Land Grants in Texas
Classification of Lands
Validation of the Spanish Grants
Major Developments in Texas Water Law, 1836–1926
The Courts
The Irrigation Act of 1852
Motl v. Boyd and Its Significance
Spanish Water Law in Texas in 1958

Chapter VI. Rulings on Spanish Grants in Texas v. Valmont Plantations


Betty Eakle Dobkins, a native Texan, was Assistant Professor of History at Southwest Texas State College, now Texas State University, in San Marcos, Texas.