U.S. Water News Online
BROKEN BOW, Okla. -- Charlette Hearne's canoe charges up
the Glover River, past hickories and oaks, until the river turns to
rocks and she grates to a halt. This is what bothers her about
selling water to Texas.
``I don't think THAT'S going to fill a 6-foot pipe,'' she says,
eyeing the thin flow over the gravel bed. ``In June, it just dries
She sees no water to spare here. What water does flow from
southeast Oklahoma, she'd rather see lost to the Red River than piped
to Texas under a compact between Oklahoma and Texas expected to be
revealed soon by state and tribal leaders.
Open that tap, says this former dental hygienist who leads the
compact opposition, and Texas might lay claim to the water forever.
``It's not that they need our water. It's not a humanitarian
situation right now,'' she says. ``They're just water hogs. There's
no conservation. None.''
No one knows for sure how much water Oklahoma can afford to sell
-- hydrologic studies are expected to be complete before the
Legislature considers the compact in February.
But proponents see water flowing from six river basins into the
briny Red River as wasted excess. And they see an impoverished and
forgotten corner of Oklahoma that desperately could use what Texas
might be willing to pay.
``If it's used right and protected right,'' says Choctaw Chief
Greg Pyle, ``it could help keep our children from moving to the
cities. Maybe if it's used right, it could bring prosperity to
Oklahoma uses less than 2 percent of the 5.7 billion gallons of
water flowing every day from 22 southeast Oklahoma counties, said Bob
Rabon, an attorney and Hugo native who represented the Chickasaw and
Choctaw tribes in talks with the state.
Five Texas utilities propose taking 160 million gallons a day
under a 99-year contract, he said.
The contract with Texas will mandate curtailment or stop the flow
if Oklahoma needs the water, Rabon said. And Oklahoma will control
The tribes claim authority to the region's water under an 1830s
federal treaty. Legal experts hired by the state disputed that but
suggested negotiating was better than litigating.
The tribes and the state have agreed to split the profits from any
water sales and say they'll use the funds to better southeast
But that doesn't satisfy Hearne's group, the Southern Oklahoma
``It's a right being taken away from every citizen in the state,
not just us,'' said Sam Richards, a rancher whose land hugs the
Mountain Fork River in McCurtain County.
His neighbors, poultry farmers Kirk and Janet McCoy, also are
Standing at the edge of the Mountain Fork, Kirk McCoy proclaims it
the ``purest stream in the whole United States,'' scoops water in his
hands and drinks.
``Why would you sell the best you have?'' he asks. ``Why would you
not save it for the people?''
Any economic boom, they predict, will only come to Dallas, Fort
Worth, and other north Texas communities that will be able to expand
on Oklahoma water.
The group members don't think Texas will prove a good neighbor and
predict water wars in court, like those pitting Kansas against
Colorado and Nebraska.
Their biggest fear is that Texas could one day claim dependence on
the Oklahoma water in court and suck southeast Oklahoma dry.
``There is no such thing as surplus water,'' said Harold Witcher,
an Atoka attorney. ``It's a figment of their imaginations. In July
and August you can walk across the Kiamichi River and not get your
shoes wet in some places.''
Hearne, who is building vacation cabins on her beloved Glover
River, said the group has hundreds of members and its numbers are
growing through organizational meetings in the affected counties.
Duane Smith, the executive director the Oklahoma Water Resources
Board and ta rget of many of the group's complaints, said he wants
Oklahomans to read the compact before drawing conclusions.
All of the work went on behind closed doors, something Smith says
was necessary to keep the negotiations flowing.
``It's a very difficult process to negotiate a contract in public
when it changes at virtually any meeting that's done,'' he said.
The deal must pass muster with the tribal legislatures, the
Oklahoma Legislature, and the federal government. There are
environmental studies remaining, including the impact on endangered
species in the region.
Meanwhile, the North Texas Water Alliance is considering other
options for getting water in Texas. With the population of the
Dallas-Fort Worth area expected to nearly double from 5 million in 50
years, the utilities would like to see Oklahoma approve a contract
this session and for the water to start flowing in five years, said
alliance spokesman Jim Parks.
``We remain optimistic we will be able to effect a contract that
is mutually beneficial to both communities,'' he said.
The complexity of the water issues raises ``so many opportunities
for it not to reach fruition,'' Rabon said. Despite more than year of
trying to come to terms, he considers the expected challenges ahead
and finds himself quoting a comment made by a Choctaw official when
``We haven't sold any water for 100 years,'' he says. ``If we
don't sell any for another 100 years, that will be all right.''
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