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Supreme Court asks Justice Department to analyze Oklahoma water case

The nation's high court seeks the views of the administration before deciding whether to uphold an appeals court decision that gives Oklahoma the right to ban water sales to North Texas.
by Chris Casteel Modified: April 2, 2012 at 8:15 pm •  Published: April 2, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked the Justice Department to weigh in on the controversy over Oklahoma's refusal to allow water sales to a North Texas water district.

In a case involving the Tarrant Regional Water District and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the high court asked the U.S. solicitor general — the administration's advocate before the Supreme Court — to file a legal opinion expressing the views of the U.S. government about Oklahoma laws governing out-of-state water sales.

The Tarrant water district claims the state's highly restrictive laws regarding interstate water sales violate the U.S. Constitution and a congressionally-approved water compact among four states.

After the Justice Department files a brief in the case, the high court will determine whether to grant a full review.

States are at odds

The Tarrant district, which serves an estimated 1.7 million people and needs more water to meet the rapidly growing demand in north central Texas, filed the lawsuit against the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in 2007 but has lost at the federal district court and appeals court levels.

Kevin L. Patrick, an attorney for the Tarrant water district, said Monday the district is pleased the Supreme Court recognized the importance of the case by asking for the U.S. government's views.

“Where states have agreed to share water — as Texas and Oklahoma did in the Red River Compact — it is critical to our federalist system of government and to economic development that the courts enforce the agreement as written and not permit states to renege by passing laws that purport to override the agreement, as Oklahoma has done.”

Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, noted that the Texas water district lost its appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and said, “We're confident the Texas planners will not be permitted, under the guise of constitutional claims, to rewrite the Red River Compact to increase Texas' rights.”

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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