McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 13, 2013

More reaction pours in following Oklahoma Supreme Court win over Texas on state water rights issue

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — Reaction continues to pour in following Oklahoma's victory in the U.S. Supreme Court over Texas on a state water rights issue.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rebuffed a decades-long attempt by Texas to seize water from Southeastern Oklahoma, primarily from the Kiamichi River Basin, which could have drained Sardis Lake.

It marks the culmination of a fight that began in Southeastern Oklahoma, primarily around Clayton and the Sardis Lake area, then spread to Wilburton, McAlester and eventually to other parts of Oklahoma.

In a ruling issued Thursday morning in Washington D.C., the Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled that the Red River Compact does not give Texas the right to cross the border and take Oklahoma’s water.

“I’m just tickled to death,” said District 17 state Rep. Dr. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, who filed an amicus brief in the case, essentially providing additional information for the high court to consider.

District 2 U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin issued a statement from his Washington office.

“This is great news for Oklahoma’s water rights,” Mullin said. “Oklahoma’s water should be kept in Oklahoma for our economic development, agricultural uses and recreation. Given the drought we’ve experienced, we must protect our water supply.”

Bob Jackman, a Tulsa geologist, has stood with the people of southeastern Oklahoma for decades in their fight to control their own water.

“This is a big victory; I think it will keep Texas out,” Jackman said.

He said he supports the southeastern Oklahoma efforts to control its own water because he has relatives “above the ground and below the ground” in the area.

“The good guys won,” Jackman said of Oklahoma’s Supreme Court victory over Texas on the water issue.  

In the lawsuit, the Tarrant Regional Water District, identified as a Texas state agency, sought to force the sale of 150 billion gallons of southeastern Oklahoma water to the district, which serves Fort Worth, Arlington and Mansfield, Texas.

Texas tried to buy the water outright from the state of Oklahoma, and the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. When that didn’t work, Texas filed the lawsuit.

Oklahoma law prevents out-of-state applicants from diverting Oklahoma water to their own use, so Texas challenged the law in federal court, asking to be allowed to come and take Oklahoma’s water, since Oklahoma wouldn’t sell it.

In a 2007 federal lawsuit, the Texas Water District had challenged the authority of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission to enforce the state’s laws.

In an opinion for the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “We hold that Tarrant’s claims lack merit.”

States participating in the Red River Compact include Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, with Louisiana and Arkansas siding with Oklahoma in the battle before the Supreme Court.

The compact gave each state 25 percent of the water in the Red River, the natural boundary between Oklahoma and Texas, which also flows into Arkansas and Louisiana and eventually reaches the Mississippi River.

In the lawsuit, the Tarrant representatives argued that if Texas couldn’t access sufficient water within its own borders, it should be able to cross into Oklahoma’s borders and take it.

In the Supreme Court’s ruling, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “The Compact creates no cross-border rights in Texas. Tarrant’s remaining arguments do not persuade us otherwise.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirmed a previous ruling by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo., which previously issued a ruling siding with Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit between the tribal Choctaw and Chickasaw nations versus the state of Oklahoma over the fate of southeastern Oklahoma’s water is wending its way through the court system. Many area residents are supporting the tribes in the lawsuit.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

 

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