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The Q&A: Charles Porter

In this week's Q&A, we interview Charles Porter, a water rights and real estate expert.

Water rights and real estate expert Charles Porter is a visiting professor at St. Edward's University in Austin.

With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:

Charles Porter is a water rights and real estate expert and a visiting professor at St. Edward's University. 

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Water: Why did you decide to go into the water rights field?

Charles Porter: It stems from all my years in real estate and property rights. To me the most basic thing about property rights and property values are the water rights. If the water is not there, it affects all the values of land and it affects everybody’s relationships. It also affects our most cherished social value: public school education, which is paid for through property taxes. Water rights are a fundamental thing and the value of the water underlies many of our most cherished values. That’s the reason why I’ve been in it.

Trib+Water: What are some the largest problems with water facing our state right now?

Porter: I’d have to say the local attitude that we have about blocking transfers of water from the wet areas of the state to the dry areas of the state is a problem. I think water is a very emotional issue. There’s more water in East Texas than there’s water in West Texas. The Legislature has a general consensus they would like to see water shared across the state, but the people in the wet regions want to keep their water.

Trib+Water: What do you think should be done about that?

Porter: Other states have successfully transferred water around. We’ve got to make sure first of all that we’ve got a good scientific basis for how much water is available, especially in groundwater. We can pretty much understand surface water because you can see it.

We’ve had a water master system for years in parts of the state where we can estimate how much water is going to be there and allocate that water based on the first come, first served right that dates back to the Spanish days.

I think it would belay a lot of people’s emotional worries that if they understood how much groundwater is in their area, if they understood how groundwater is recharged, then they would have a real good feel for it.

If they do move water, let’s say from the Vista Ridge Pipeline, that would automatically run all of the people living in those counties out of drinking water. The key is spending the money to fully understand the science. The Water Development Board does a very good job about it, but we still have modeled available groundwater.

We need to be more exact about how much water is really there. How can you allocate something if you don’t know how much exactly you got?

Trib+Water: Does Texas have enough water to meet the growing demand?

Porter: Absolutely without a doubt. A couple years ago when Lake Travis was drying up there was a general attitude that there wouldn’t be water again. Well, Lake Travis is now full and overfull.

Texas has had a history of going through long periods of drought followed by periods of floods. We never seem to have any normal rainfall.

But there is enough water here. Look at the city of San Antonio and how well they conserve water. I think you’re seeing people around the state begin to treat water like other parts of the country and that is that water is precious. There is enough water, we just need to better allocate it. We need to look at water as a state, not one county versus another.

Trib+Water: What can local governments do about water?

Porter: The cities are doing a good job. The counties are trying their best too. One of the things that it comes down to this: The counties that have lesser availability of funding need to come and pull the money available from the Water Development Board. It needs a big master plan.

We had a bill in the last legislative session where we would have a water grid, like an electric grid, where people could immediately tie into a whole statewide grid of water. The bill didn’t pass, but I’d like to see it come about some day.

Trib+Water: Can you talk more about the water grid?

Porter: Right-of-way acquisition takes time to get pipelines across the state because the U.S. Constitution says that cities and public governments can’t take land without just compensation through eminent domain. It takes a long time to get that grid.

For example, take the 2012 state water plan that said we would be severely short of water within 25 years if we were in a severe drought situation. Well, now is the time to start acquiring that right-of-way to set up those corridors so if we do somehow eventually find a way to move water from one part of the state to the other we don’t wait 10 years to go through the right-of-way acquisition process.

The water grid is going to take a lot of work, and it’ll need an intelligent system that recognizes the geography of Texas and the best water sources to figure out how those this can be done.

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