Oklahoma Water Resources Board the Water Agency

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Legal Matters

Defending Oklahoma Water & Water Rights

As Oklahoma's water agency, the OWRB has long been committed to vigorous defense of the water rights and needs of the state and all of its citizens. This includes both proactive and defensive protection of the state's longstanding authority to manage its surface and groundwater supplies equitably in continued pursuit of a strong economy and healthy environment.

Stream Adjudication

On February 10, 2012, the Oklahoma Attorney General filed a request on behalf of the OWRB asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to adjudicate water rights formally in three major stream systems in southeastern Oklahoma. That request was granted on February 23. The AG also filed for dismissal of the federal lawsuit filed by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations claiming "prior and paramount" rights to and "dominion" over water within a 22-county area of southeastern Oklahoma. The far-reaching claims raised by the Nations' lawsuit, which they refused to dismiss, necessitated the State's filing to initiate a general stream adjudication.

COMING: Instructions and forms for water rights holders to submit claims to protect existing water rights and permits issued by the OWRB.

Stay Orders by Federal Court for Mediation: On March 27, 2012, the federal court issued an order to stay formal proceedings (put the case on hold) for 60 days to allow more time for mediation among the parties. Since that time, a joint motion to stay proceedings has been granted and renewed on a continual basis to allow further efforts in mediation. The stay currently has been extended until May 15, 2014.

Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations v. Gov. Fallin, OWRB, and Oklahoma City

On August 18, 2011, the Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The lawsuit names as defendants Gov. Mary Fallin, the members and Executive Director of the OWRB, the City of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Water Utility Trust (OCWUT). The lawsuit alleges the Indian Nations have federally-protected rights to the water within a 22-county territory in southeastern Oklahoma. Among other things, the lawsuit seeks (1) declaratory judgments against any action by the OWRB on a pending application by Oklahoma City and OCWUT for a permit to use stream water from Sardis Reservoir in southeastern Oklahoma, or any other withdrawal or export of water from the area at issue, unless and until there is initiated a general stream adjudication that satisfies the requirements of the federal law known as the McCarran Amendment; and (2) permanent injunctions against any such action unless and until a general stream adjudication that satisfies the McCarran Amendment is completed.

On February 10, 2012, the Oklahoma Attorney General filed on behalf of the OWRB to initiate such McCarran Amendment adjudication proceedings to protect and accurately determine all rights to the use of water in the Kiamichi, Clear Boggy, and Muddy Boggy stream systems and moved to dismiss the Tribes’ federal court action as a premature effort to have federal courts usurp Oklahoma’s management of waters of the State. However, on March 12, 2012, the United States filed a Notice of Removal with the federal district court in Oklahoma City. Since that time, a joint motion to stay proceedings has been granted for both cases (Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation v. Fallin and OWRB v. United States) and has been renewed on a continual basis to allow further efforts in mediation. The stay currently has been extended until May 15, 2014.

Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann

In Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) had sought declaratory and injunctive remedies against Oklahoma laws that placed conditions on the use of compacted stream water outside of the state. The district court had granted summary judgment and dismissal in favor of OWRB members. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court on several grounds. The Court of Appeals held that the federal Red River Compact�a standing agreement between the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana�provides Congressional consent and gives the Oklahoma Legislature latitude to impose conditions on stream water apportioned to Oklahoma under the compact. The Court further held that TRWD lacks standing to assert claims for groundwater located in Oklahoma because, among other things, the statutes challenged by TRWD do not apply to groundwater. On January 19, 2012, TRWD filed a final appeal with the United States Supreme Court seeking review of the Court of Appeals decision. Subsequently, the Supreme Court referred the case to the Solicitor General for comment. Following comment by the Solicitor General, in January 2013 the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Oral arguments were made on April 23. On June 13, 2013, the Court ruled unanimously in Oklahoma�s favor, effectively resolving the lawsuit.

In summary, the Supreme Court definitively ruled that Tarrant has no right to cross the state border and take water from Oklahoma because (1) Oklahoma laws are within the state's authority and rights to control its waters under the Red River Compact, and (2) Oklahoma laws are not contrary to the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Map of Reach II of the Red River Compact region

Map of Red River Compact area, Reach II.

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Last updated: December 11, 2020

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