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The Controversy over water rights at Sardis Lake

Written by Dick Pryor on Sunday July 18, 2010


After more than three decades of wrangling, the dispute over rights to the water at Sardis Lake in southeastern Oklahoma is getting hot. The city of Oklahoma City has agreed to pay $27 million to acquire the rights by paying off the debt owed by the state of Oklahoma to the Army Corps of Engineers who built the lake in the early 1970's.  That deal could bring 90% of the lake's water to central Oklahoma for use by residents of Oklahoma City and surrounding communities. 

However, people in southeastern Oklahoma oppose the deal and are seeking a resolution of the matter in court.   Among those opposing the agreement presented to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board last month are the group Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy, state legislators from the area, and the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes.  In fact, the tribes offered to pay the $5.2 million installment payment that was due by July 1 of this year, but that offer was rejected, and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board signed a contract to sell the storage rights at Sardis Lake to the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust. 

It's just a matter of time before the move will be challenged in court.  The tribes want the state to complete a comprehensive water use study (that would be available in about a year) before making any decisions or entering into contracts affecting the water at Sardis Lake.  Residents in southeastern Oklahoma are concerned that the lake, located in Pushmataha County, will no longer be available to supply water, recreation and economic development to a region that is already one of the poorest in the state, and the nation.  For its part, the city of Oklahoma City has been pushing for many years to acquire the Sardis Lake water to serve the growing metropolitan area.

In addition to concern over the acquisition of Sardis Lake water by Oklahoma City, people in southeastern Oklahoma are concerned about efforts by the Tarrant County (Texas) Water District to tap into Oklahoma's water supply to serve the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex.  Shortly after the taping of the program, Federal Judge Joe Heaton dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Tarrant County Water District to acquire Oklahoma water.  Judge Heaton's ruling is expected to lead to the case being sent to the 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Denver for further litigation.

Today's program focuses primarily on Sardis Lake, but the implications of the outcome of this controversy are huge for the rest of the state.  Former Oklahoma governor David Walters has referred to water as "the new oil" and it's hard to argue with that characterization.  Dating back to the 1950's, none other than Oklahoma U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr saw water as a potential windfall for the state, if properly developed.  Sen. Kerr also saw water policy as essential for flood control and environmental protection.

I hope you enjoy this program - featuring three reporters who have been following water issues in Oklahoma for many years.  It's the kind of discussion that you won't find anywhere else except on Oklahoma Forum.  Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right:  Host Dick Pryor, Scott Carter, Carol Cole-Frowe, Pennie Embry)   



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