By BETSY BLANEY

Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) -- Billionaire T. Boone Pickens wants a court to derail state approval of a water management plan that he claims would take $10 million off the value of his groundwater rights in the Texas Panhandle.

Pickens' attorney, Marty Jones, said Tuesday that the oilman filed a lawsuit against the Texas Water Development Board last month.

The suit came after the board endorsed a plan that Pickens claims will take as many as 18,000 acre feet of water a year from the Ogallala Aquifer under land belonging to him and another rancher. One acre foot equals about 326,000 gallons.

The lawsuit says the combined plans of three groundwater conservation districts in the Panhandle management area will devalue Mesa Water LP's rights and those of a nearby rancher.

Pickens, who has been trying for years to sell water from the Panhandle to thirsty cities to the south, wants a Travis County court to declare the plan unreasonable. That would force the districts to revise their proposals.

The Texas Attorney General's Office, which is representing the water board, filed a response to Pickens' suit denying each claim.

Lawmakers told each conservation district -- Texas has about 95 of them -- to establish by Sept. 1 their own "desired future conditions."

According to Texas' water code, "the districts may establish different desired future conditions for each aquifer, subdivision of an aquifer, or geologic strata located in whole or in part within the boundaries of the management area." Or they may use "each geographic area overlying an aquifer in whole or in part or subdivision of an aquifer within the boundaries of the management area."

But "it doesn't define different geographic areas," Jones said.

"We want to ensure equitable treatment for all the people who have water rights in the same aquifer," Jones said. "Boone has never opposed regulation of groundwater. In fact, it protects his interests today."

C.E. Williams, general manager of the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District that lies within the water management area, said the planning had many steps.

"We've gone through the process and we feel the process worked," he said. "We view it as being complete."

The Ogallala Aquifer lies beneath about 225,000 square miles in the Great Plains, particularly the High Plains of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska.

If implemented, the lawsuit says, the plans of three Panhandle conservation districts would cause a reversal in the natural flow of the aquifer beneath land owned by Pickens and rancher George Arrington. In that case, Pickens and Arrington would lose up to 18,000 acre feet of water annually during the 50 years in which the districts' plans would be in effect.

One district's plan calls for 40 percent of the aquifer in four counties to be remaining in 50 years. A second, which takes in 13 other Panhandle counties, calls for 50 percent of the aquifer to still be there at that time.

The district that deals with Pickens' and Arrington's water rights in Hemphill County says there must be 80 percent of the aquifer's water remaining in 50 years.

If Pickens decided to sell Mesa's 8,000 acres of water rights, the rules in Hemphill County make it a money-losing proposition, Jones said.

"The market value is shot," he said. "It's just that nobody wants to buy it with 20 percent (of the groundwater) that's available."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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