Facts, not hyperbole, will decide Texas water district's lawsuit against Oklahoma

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: January 8, 2013

THE U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a federal compact signed in 1980 gives the state of Texas the right to use water that flows out of Oklahoma. The court will weigh the facts of the case. The hyperbole will be left to everyone else — and there will be plenty of it between now and whenever the court issues its ruling.

Most of it will relate to the drought that Oklahoma and much of this part of the country has been experiencing the past two years. Indeed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt noted that the Obama administration, in requesting that the high court hear the case, had been “conspicuously silent about the historic drought Oklahoma is suffering, in which 90 percent of the state — including the Kiamichi River region — is under extreme drought conditions.”

Pruitt's visceral argument packs a punch around these parts, where we've seen stock ponds and creeks dry up and lake levels fall steadily. But the state wasn't in severe drought the whole time in which this deal has been pending, and Oklahoma's current drought status isn't relevant to the legal arguments.

What is relevant is the compact among Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. The compact apportioned the Red River and its tributaries based on geography and flow rates in the Red River basin's waters. One section of the compact gives the four states equal rights to water runoff in a part of the basin when the flow of the river reaches a certain rate.

The Tarrant Regional Water District says that section of the law gives Texas the right to its 25 percent share even if it has to get the water from Oklahoma. The Justice Department agrees with the water district, arguing that section of the compact doesn't make any reference to state boundaries.

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