The Norman Transcript

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July 8, 2013

Tribes work to solve water rights issues

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY —

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the state remains committed to the mediation process.

“We’re hopeful that the parties can achieve a resolution to these issues,” said spokeswoman Diane Clay.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Oklahoma’s favor in a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Tarrant Regional Water District in North Texas that sought access to southeastern Oklahoma tributaries of the Red River that separates the two states.

The lawsuit against the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission challenged the state’s water laws and sought a court order to prevent the board from enforcing them. Lower courts had ruled that the four-state Red River Compact protects Oklahoma’s water statutes from the legal challenge.

Legislation adopted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 said no out-of-state water permit can prevent Oklahoma from meeting its obligations under compacts with other states. It also requires the Water Resources Board to consider in-state water shortages or needs when considering applications for out-of-state water sales.

But the Texas case is unrelated to the tribal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City that sought an injunction to bar the state and Oklahoma City from transporting water from southeastern Oklahoma to the state’s largest city.

Burrage said at the time the lawsuit was intended to force the state to recognize the tribe’s sovereignty over water in territories covered by treaties with the federal government and to determine how much water is actually in the region to make sure tribal needs are met.

The state responded with a lawsuit of its own in February 2012 that asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide what rights the two tribes actually have to water in the region. Authorized by the Water Resources Board, it sought a comprehensive stream adjudication of tribal water rights in the Kiamichi River and other stream basins. It was eventually transferred to federal court.

Among other things, the tribal lawsuit sought an injunction to stop the board from selling its water storage rights to Sardis Lake in southeastern Oklahoma to the Oklahoma City Water Utility Trust. The trust wants a water-use permit to withdraw water from the reservoir, which is located within the historic territories of each of the tribes.

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