Amicable resolution to Oklahoma water dispute seems unlikely

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: February 10, 2012

THE epistolary back-and-forth over water in southeastern Oklahoma continued this week between state officials and the heads of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. Every new volley diminishes the chances that this dispute can or will be resolved amicably.

Choctaw Chief Greg Pyle and Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby wrote to Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday to say they wouldn't be dropping their lawsuit against the state until a “reasonable resolution” can be reached. This was in response to a letter Fallin sent last week urging them to do just that.

The tribes filed suit in August against the state and the city of Oklahoma City over a plan that would allow the city to pipe in water from Sardis Lake to meet long-term demand in the metro area. The city agreed to pay off the multimillion-dollar debt that the state had long owed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for construction of the lake.

The tribes claim ownership to the water in 22 southeastern counties. In her letter last week, Fallin pointed out that when they filed their federal lawsuit, the tribes sought to stop the state until the water rights could be determined. That process is called stream adjudication, and the state began that process with a filing in state court.

Fallin told the tribes they were “now taking every action possible to prevent that adjudication from occurring.” Anoatubby and Pyle reiterated in their letter Tuesday that adjudication isn't necessary.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt, during a meeting with The Oklahoman's editorial board earlier Tuesday, said the state was willing to put its action on hold and continue mediation talks — provided the tribes would put the brakes on their federal lawsuit. “Until they do that, we don't believe that we can risk not pursuing the streamwide adjudication at the state level,” Pruitt said. “In fact I think the state will be adversely affected if we don't.”

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