A new effort has been launched to protect access to an increasingly precious resource for the first time in Missouri.

Missouri has no law that protects a property owners’ rights to water under his land. The Department of Natural Resources regulates water quality but not water access. Courts have ruled on access to water on a case-by-case basis.

But nothing keeps someone from drilling a well next to a farmer’s irrigated property and pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons out of the underground supply every day.

A senate committee is considering a proposal to protect bootheel landowners who rely on irrigation from any user of 100-thosuand gallons a day or more. President Caleb Davis of the Southeast Missouri Rural Water District, which covers seven bootheel counties, says water is critical for an area that is one of the state’s major crop areas. “We can do anything down there that you can do in the San Joaquin in California. But to do that, for growers to produce, we have to have the capacity to do that, and water is it,” he says.

The bootheel is not the only area with water supply problems. A spokesman for the natural resources department says those areas need to have laws specifially tailored to their situations.

AUDIO: Bob Priddy’s story :58 mp3

AUDIO: Highlights of Senate Committee meeting 26:02 mp3