Environment | Law

Supreme Court backs Oklahoma in water dispute with Texas





The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday sided with Oklahoma in a water dispute with Texas that impacts tribal rights.

The justices held that the Red River Compact, a multi-state agreement, does not require the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to sell water to the Tarrant Regional Water District in Texas. The decision was unanimous.

"I am pleased by the Supreme Court’s ruling today in favor of Oklahoma’s inherent water rights as laid out in the Red River Compact,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said in a press release. “This decision recognizes that as four states sharing precious water, we all have access to the water in the basin but not permission to take from whatever part we choose.

“This is great news for Oklahoma’s water rights,” Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, said in a press release. “Oklahoma’s water should be kept in Oklahoma for our economic development, agricultural uses and recreation. Given the drought we have experienced, we must protect our water supply.”

The Choctaw Nation and the Chickasaw Nation weren't parties to Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann. But they are in settlement talks to resolve their treaty-based water rights in southeastern Oklahoma, where Texas tried to draw water.

The tribes were mentioned in the Supreme Court's decision. The Tarrant Regional Water District tried to buy water from the tribes in an apparent recognition of their rights.

"From 2000 to 2002, Tarrant, along with several other Texas water districts, offered to purchase water from Oklahoma and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court. "But these negotiations were unsuccessful and Tarrant eventually abandoned these efforts."

The Apache Tribe wasn't a party either but its rights are at issue as well. The tribe signed a memorandum of understanding with the state to work water rights and water use issues, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling in the case.

Get the Story:
Cole praises Supreme Court ruling that upholds Oklahoma’s water rights (The Norman Transcript 6/14)
U.S. Supreme Court sides with Oklahoma in water case (The Oklahoman 6/14)
Oklahoma officials react to Supreme Court water decision (The Oklahoman 6/14)
Supreme Court settles water fight (The Muskogee Phoenix 6/13)

An Opinion:
Editorial: Supreme Court settles water fight (The Tulsa World 6/14)

Supreme Court Decision:
Tarrant Regional Water Dist. v. Herrmann (June 13, 2014)

Related Stories:
Oklahoma tribes caught in water battle before Supreme Court (5/2)
Supreme Court hears water suit that affects Oklahoma tribes (4/22)
Supreme Court asks for DOJ brief in Oklahoma water dispute (4/3)