The legacy of Charlie Flagg: narratives of drought and overcoming the monster in West Texas water policy debates
Vol. 4 No. 1 (2013): Special Issue on Groundwater. Cover photo: An artesian well, belonging to catfsh farmer Ronnie Pucek, in the Edwards Aquifer in 1993. © Peter Essick.


Elmer Kelton
groundwater management
Ogallala Aquifer

How to Cite

“The Legacy of Charlie Flagg: Narratives of Drought and Overcoming the Monster in West Texas Water Policy Debates”. 2013. Texas Water Journal 4 (1): 78-92.


The 40th anniversary of the publication of Elmer Kelton’s 1973 novel The Time it Never Rained coincides with one of the most severe droughts on record in Texas. Meanwhile, as of 2005, local groundwater conservation districts in Texas are required by law to determine how much groundwater they want to conserve for future generations. Such policy decisions have led to debates in West Texas among agricultural producers over whether pumping restrictions amount to erosion of the famous “rule of capture” and private property rights. This article presents Texas water law history, the Ogallala Aquifer, and its users as a continuing story in which producers and government policymakers are actors. This paper first summarizes the ways in which water challenges in the American West and elsewhere have been classified according to different disciplines and then shows how each of those ways of knowing can be understood as a kind of storytelling. The author uses Kelton’s drought novel and scholarly insights into how narrative works as a means of interpreting and contextualizing comments made by producers and others at several West Texas agricultural water policy hearings. The article concludes that policy-makers must consider the human instinct to translate complex and often contradictory knowledge from multiple domains into a less confusing story line.

Citation: Baake K. 2013. The legacy of Charlie Flagg: narratives of drought and overcoming the monster in West Texas water policy debates. Texas Water Journal. 4(1):78-92. Available from:



Ashworth W. 2006. Ogallala blue. Woodstock (Vermont): The Countryman Press. 330 p.

Austin American Statesman Editorial Board. 2011 July 23. ‘The time it never rained’ has come again. Austin Ameri¬can Statesman. [Internet]; [cited 2013 June 10]; Available from the-time-it-never-rained-has-come-again/nRcst/

Blackburn E. 2011a April 8. City supplier buys Pickens’ water rights. Lubbock Avalanche Journal [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 10]. Available from:

Blackburn E. 2011b March 27. Water conservation district to drop plans for strict rules on water use. Lubbock Avalanche Journal [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 10]. Available from: water-conservation-district-drop-plans-strict-rules-water-use

Booker C. 2004. The seven basic plots: why we tell stories. New York (New York): Continuum. 713 p.

Brauer DK. 2009. Desired future conditions in Texas: what is it about and why should agricultural researchers care? Wetting Front: Soil and Water Management Research News [Internet]. USDA-ARS Conservation and Produc¬tion Research Laboratory. [cited 2013 June 12]: Winter 2009. Available from: Wetting%20Front/WF_Vol11-No2.pdf

Burns R. 2012 February 1. Drought may mean more dryland cotton in Texas High Plains. Southwest Farm Press [Inter¬net]. [cited 2013 June 10] Available from:¬land-cotton-texas-high-plains

Decker JM. 2011. The time it never rained, part two. Cattle Call: The Voice of NCBA’s Young Producers’ Council [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 10]; Available from: http://

Eckstein G, Hardberger A. 2009. Scientific, legal, and ethical foundations for Texas water law Texas Tech School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series [Internet]. Lubbock (Texas): [cited 2013 June 12]: 5-35; No. 2010-10. Avail¬able from:

[EWG] Environmental Working Group. 2013. EWG farm subsidies. Environmental Working Group [Internet]. Washington (DC): Environmental Working Group. c. 2007–2013 [cited 2013 June 10]. Available from: http://

Fuller R. 1995. Naming the antichrist: the history of an Ameri¬can obsession. New York (New York): Oxford University Press. 232 p.

Graham D. 2011. State of minds: Texas culture & its discon¬tents. Austin (Texas): University of Texas Press. 183 p.

Green DE. 1973. Land of the underground rain. Austin (Texas): University of Texas Press. 295 p.

Herman D. 2002. Story logic: problems and possibilities of narrative. Lincoln (Nebraska): University of Nebraska Press. 477 p.

[HPUWCD] High Plains Underground Water Conservation District. 2011 March. Meetings scheduled for public comments on proposed amendments to District rules. Cross Section [Internet]. Lubbock (Texas): High Plains Underground Water Conservation District. [cited 2013 June 10]; 57(3). Available from: public/pdfs/March%202011%20Cross%20Section.pdf

[HPUWCD] High Plains Underground Water Conservation District. 2013. Ogallala Aquifer. High Plains Underground Water Conservation District [Internet]. Lubbock (Texas): High Plains Underground Water Conservation District; [cited 2013 June 10]. Available from: http://www.hpwd. com/aquifers/ogallala-aquifer

[HPUWCD no date] High Plains Underground Water Conser¬vation District. No date. Rumor vs fact. High Plains Underground Water Conservation District. Postcard mailed in 2012 to producers and others.

Hoff C. 2013 January 24. Shaken and stirred: for many, job losses mean leaving friends, family, home. Lubbock Avalanche Journal. Sect. A 1 (col. 30). Available from: when-cargill-plant-closes-many-workers-will-leave-plain¬view

Johnson RS, Ellis GM. 2013. A new day? Two interpretations of the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in Edwards Aquifer Authority v. Day and McDaniel. Texas Water Journal [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 10]; 4(1):35-54. Available from: view/6990

Johnson WD. 1900/1901. The High Plains and their utiliza¬tion. U.S. Geological Survey Annual Report. Vol. 21: Part IV. 609-741.

Kelton E. 1973/1984. The time it never rained. New York (New York): Tom Doherty Associates (A Forge Book). 400 p.

Kelton E. 2008 July. True grit. Texas Monthly [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 11]; Available from: http://www.texasmonthly. com/story/true-grit?fullpage=1

Killingsworth MJ. 2005. Appeals in modern rhetoric: an ordinary-language approach. Carbondale (Illinois): South¬ern Illinois University Press. 172 p.

Lesikar B. Kaiser R. Silvy V. 2002. Questions about groundwater conservation districts in Texas [Internet]. College Station (Texas): Texas Cooperative System, Texas Water Resources Institute, The Texas A&M University System; [cited 2013 June 11]. SR-2002- 036. Available from: php?id=402656681&url=353916ae68a145471c¬be310aa328b726

Mace RE, Petrossian R, Bradley R, Mullican WF 3rd, Lance C. 2008. A streetcar named desired future conditions: the new groundwater availability for Texas (Revised) [Inter¬net]. Austin (Texas): Texas Water Development Board; [cited 2013 June 12]. Available from: http://www.twdb.

Mace RE, Ridgeway C, Sharp JM Jr. 2004. Chapter 5: Groundwater is no longer secret and occult – a historical and hydrogeologic analysis of the East case. In: Mullican WF 3rd, Schwartz S, editors. 100 years of rule of capture: from East to groundwater management [Internet]. Austin (Texas): Texas Water Development Board; [cited 2013 June 12]. p. 63-88. Report 361. Available from: https://www. doc/R361/5%20CH%20Mace.pdf

Marcou J. 1858. Geology of North America with two reports: The Prairies of Arkansas and Texas, The Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, and the Sierra Nevada of California. Originally made for the United States Government. Paris: printed for the author by Zurcher and Furrer. 144 p.

McCloskey D. 1998. 2nd edition. The rhetoric of economics. Madison (Wisconsin): University of Wisconsin Press; 248 p.

Miller JJ. 2010 January 25. Conservative lit 101. National Review Online [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 11]; Available from:

Mullican WF 3rd, Schwartz S, editors. 2004. 100 years of rule of capture: from East to groundwater management. Austin (Texas): Texas Water Development Board. 173 p. Report 361. Available from:¬tions/reports/numbered_reports/doc/R361/R361.pdf

Musico J. 2013a Nov 10. Limited water means Innova¬tions to agriculture. [Internet]. [cited 2013 November 11]. Available from:¬culture

Musico J. 2013b Oct 8. Water district to consider delaying landowner requirements. Lubbock Avalanche Journal [Internet]. [cited 2013 October 15]. Available from: http://¬trict-consider-delaying-landowner-requirements

Nielsen-Gammon JW. 2012. The 2011 Texas drought. Texas Water Journal [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 10]; 3(1):59– 95. Available from: twj/article/view/6463

[Numbers 20: 7-8]. In: Coogan, MD, editor. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York (New York): Oxford Univer¬sity Press; 1973/1977/1991. 638 p.

Ong WJ. 1982. Orality and literacy: the technologizing of the word. New York (New York): Routledge. 204 p.

Opiela E. 2002. Commentary: The rule of capture in Texas: an outdated principle beyond its time. University of Denver Water Law Review. Fall, 2002:87. 34 p. Avail¬able from: Opiela_2002_rule_of_capture_texas_outdated_principle. pdf

Pielou E C. 1998. Fresh water. Chicago (Illinois): University of Chicago Press. 275 p.

Potter HG, III. 2004. History and evolution of the rule of capture. In: Mullican WF 3rd, Schwartz S, editors. 2004. 100 years of rule of capture: from East to groundwater management. Austin (Texas): Texas Water Development Board; 1-9. Report 361. Available from: http://www.twdb. R361/R361.pdf

[PCG]. Plains Cotton Growers Inc. 2004. High Plains cotton production 1928-present [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 11]; Available from: stats/1928-Present.html

Protect Water Rights Coalition Newsletter 2012 August. Taking property is not conservation. Also available [Inter¬net] [Cited 2013, November 11] from: http://www.

Protect Water Rights Coalition 2013. [Internet] [Cited 2013, November 11] from:

Ratcliffe RG. 2011 October 7. Will subsidies to farmer Perry come back to haunt presidential hopeful Perry? Austin American Statesmen [Internet]. [cited 2013 Oct 15]. Available from: state-regional/will-subsidies-to-farmer-perry-come-back-to-haun-1/nRdK5/

Renault D. 2002. Value of virtual water in food: principles and virtues. Land and Water Development Division (AGL), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 10]. Paper presented at the UNESCO-IHE Workshop on Virtual Water Trade 12-13 December 2002 Delft, the Netherlands. Available from:

Ritivoi AD. 2005/2008. Identity and narrative. In: Herman D, Jahn M, Ryan M-L, editors. Routledge encyclopedia of narrative theory. Abingdon (Oxon): Routledge. 231-235.

[SB 332 Texas Legislature online] 2011. Texas Legisla¬ture [Internet]. [cited 2013 June12]; Available from: SB00332F.pdf

Schwartz RM. 1997. The curse of Cain: the violent legacy of monotheism. Chicago (Illinois): University of Chicago Press. 211 p.

Stanton JS, Qi SL, Ryter DW, Falk SE, Houston NA, Peterson SM, Westenbroek SM, Christenson SC. 2011. Selected approaches to estimate water-budget components of the High Plains, 1940 through 1949 and 2000 through 2009 [Internet]. Reston (Virginia): U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey; [cited 2013 June 10]. Scientific Investigation Report 2011-5183. Available from: 5183.pdf

Texas Water Code [modified 2007 August 11]. Texas Water Code - Section 36.108, Joint Planning In Management Area, Section d) [Internet]; [cited 2013 June 10].Available from:

Torres G. 2012. Liquid assets: groundwater in Texas. Yale Law Journal Online [Internet]. [cited 2013 June 10]; 121(2012 Dec 4). Available from: http://yalelawjournal. org/2012/12/4/torres.html

[USGS] U.S. Geological Survey. [modified 2013 April 29. National Water-Quality Assessment Program. High Plains regional groundwater study: High Plains aquifer system [Internet]. Reston (Virginia): U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. [cited 2013 Jun 11]. Available from: HPGW_home.html

Young, Adam. Turnover continues on water district board, replacement sought. Lubbock Avalanche Journal [Inter¬net]. [cited 2013 November 12]. Available from: http://¬tinues-water-district-board-replacement-sought

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2013 Ken Baake