Water issues are complicated, but that’s nothing new, said Tom Sell, co-founder and managing partner of Combest, Sell and Associates, LLC. Sell was keynote speaker at the recent Water College, sponsored by the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation in Lubbock.
Sell told the audience gathered at the Bayer Museum of Agriculture that when he first started studying law he considered concentrating on water legislation issues. He soon discovered that “water law is complicated.”
He said issues surrounding water rights and regulations pose challenges to land owners, legislators and others with vested interests in water—which is everyone.
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“But we are blessed to be in a country where we can debate differences of opinion and those differences can be ironed out.”
He quoted from the 1955 Yearbook of Agriculture, which was titled Water, and noted that the same challenges, obstacles and opportunities facing the nation today also existed at that time, but for a U.S. population that was half what it is today.
He said organizations such as the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation offer solutions to the increasingly complex issue of providing adequate water for a rapidly growing population.
“Determining the right thing to do with our water resource within the state, the region and the country is a crucial issue,” he said. “The best means of conservation is having a legal system that protects private property rights. Those with a vested interest in protecting a resource are the best managers.”
Sell said Texas water laws serve as “a great model,” for other states to emulate and include “a strong right of capture, protection of property rights and following the rule of law.”
He said TAWC and other entities “focus on promoting careful management of property rights and promoting conservation. TAWC is a great model.”
Sell also commented on the need to remain active in state and national political arenas to maintain those protections. He said the farm bill passed last year after a prolonged debate is an example of how difficult it is for agriculture interests to be heard in Washington and state capitols. He pointed out the decreasing number of active farmers across the country and the decreasing number of legislators who represent agricultural districts.
He said factions within both conservative and liberal circles have voiced support for doing away with agricultural support programs. The Heritage Foundation on the right and the Environmental Working Group on the left, he explained, want to do way with farm programs.
Maintaining water rights as well as protecting other essential agricultural programs will demand participation from farmers and ranchers.
The Texas Alliance for Water Conservation is a project made possible through a grant from the Texas Water Development Board.