U.S. Water News Online
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A Texas water district has sued the state
of Oklahoma, arguing a moratorium on out-of-state water sales
violates federal law.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western
District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City by the Tarrant Regional Water
District, which serves 1.6 million people, including residents of
Fort Worth and Arlington in North Texas.
It names the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water
Conservation Storage Commission.
An initial hearing on the suit was set for 10 a.m. on Jan. 23
before U.S. Judge Joe Heaton in Oklahoma City.
The Texas governmental agency argues a moratorium passed by the
Oklahoma Legislature to bar exporting water to other states violates
the federal commerce clause. The moratorium was approved in 2002 and
extended in legislation passed in 2006.
The lawsuit seeks a restraining order to prevent the Water
Resource Board from using the moratorium as a basis for rejecting the
sale of Oklahoma water to the Texas entity.
It argues Oklahoma has allocated only 7.6 percent of the 34
million acre feet of water that flows out of the state each year into
the Red River and Arkansas River in southeastern Oklahoma.
"Oklahoma has no basis upon which to predict, and has not
predicted that it will suffer any water shortage in the near or even
distant future," the lawsuit says. "Indeed the OWRB has repeatedly
affirmed that Oklahoma has more than sufficient resources to meet its
It says Oklahoma's moratorium has "an unconstitutional economic
Duane Smith, director of the Water Resources Board, said the
agency is in the midst of developing a statewide 50-year water plan.
He said many areas of the state are in need of water.
"Our comprehensive water plan is for Oklahomans, not water
planning for Texas," Smith said.
"The Legislature was very clear in passing the moratorium about
out-of-state water transport and we're going to do our very best to
adhere to that law."
Smith said his agency would ask Attorney General Drew Edmondson to
represent the board in defending the moratorium.
Edmondson's office was not named in the lawsuit, which cites a
1978 attorney general's opinion which states:
"Water use within Oklahoma should be developed to the maximum
extent feasible for the benefit of Oklahoma so that out-of-state
downstream users will not acquire vested rights therein to the
detriment of the citizens of Oklahoma."
Edmondson said he had not read the suit and it was not discussed
at a meeting he and Water Board liaison Kelly Hunter Burk had with
two representatives of the Tarrant County group.
He said the meeting revolved around what the Texas group was
seeking in its application for Oklahoma water.
Edmondson said he was not surprised the issue is winding up in
court, but he was "a little surprised that we would be litigating it
"I'm fairly confident that our moratorium can be defended against
constitutional attack because it is not a permanent ban," the
Oklahoma attorney general said.
Jim Oliver, general manager of the Texas water district, said his
group would entertain a settlement with Oklahoma.
"We'd be willing to sign a contract that if Oklahoma ever needs
this water back, we'd give it up," Oliver said.
He argued that Oklahoma has more than enough water for its needs,
however. "There's enough water in the Kiamichi River basin alone to
serve four times the population of Oklahoma," Oliver said.
Oklahoma's water plan is scheduled to be completed in 2010, Smith
said. The lawsuit questions whether the state is acting in good
The lawsuit was filed on the same day the Texas group made three
permit applications with water regulators in Oklahoma seeking to
purchase a total of 460,000 acre feet of water per year. The suit
said that amount is one-ninth of the amount that would otherwise be
discharged into the Gulf of Mexico and "lost to beneficial use"
It says the Texas water district has a population base that will
more than double by 2060, with water needs exceeding supply.
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