Water rights at center of Bell County Water Symposium
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Statewide, recent rainfall totals have been disappointing, despite a fairly wet summer.
Much of Texas has slipped back in to a dry spell over the last two months and many areas still haven't recovered from the 2011 drought.
"Back in the early days, you know, I remember we had a lot of floods around there—we had creeks down below," well-owner Noel Lovellette said.
Lovellette has been ranching in Central Texas for a long time.
"But you don't see that anymore,” he said. “It has changed. We do not have the precipitation that we had before."
Like many of his neighbors, he's seen wells go dry and creeks turn to dust.
On Thursday, he attended the annual Bell County Water Symposium to try to get some answers.
"This is interesting to me because I have wells of my own," Lovellette said. "How do I really stand in this? I really don't know."
Throughout history, Texas has always balanced on the edge of drought, according to State Climatologist Dr. John Neilsen-Gammon.
"Rainfall is so random from year-to-year that it takes a long time before you can detect any clear trends in the patterns,” Dr. Neilsen-Gammon said. “The models still can't do a good job simulating rainfall."
But he says average temperatures are definitely rising.
"As far as the weather patterns and how those are going to change, it's not clear how that's going to work out for Texas," he said.
But in the face of changing climate, the larger issue is how Texas law defines water rights.
Surface water belongs to the state, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled that underground water is a property right.
"One player out there can take all the water and pump it up because he's got a bigger pump,” water rights expert Dr. Charles Porter said. “That's not fair."
Private well owners are caught in the middle.
"I just don't want see it depleted and for somebody to tell me when I can use it and when I can't use it," Lovellette said.
Experts say the solution will have to come from lawmakers.
"We need to figure out a better way of relating the way groundwater relates to surface water and how it's all managed conjunctively," Dr. Porter said. "We need today to be preparing for things 30, 50, 60 years down the road under the worst case."
There was some good news out of the Bell County water conference. State climatologist says the forecast this winter is ‘La Niña’ neutral, meaning Texas at least has a chance of seeing average or above average rainfall.