The state and two Indian tribes have tried mediation, with little apparent success, as a way to resolve a federal lawsuit over the rights to water in southeastern Oklahoma. Might a task force loaded with heavy hitters be able to do the trick?
We're going to find out. The 19-person group was convened last week by the court-appointed mediator, Francis E. McGovern, who knows his way around difficult cases — he was a key player in mediation efforts following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago.
The Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes filed suit against the state last year, seeking to block a plan to move water from Sardis Lake to Oklahoma City. In claiming ownership to the water in a 22-county area in southeastern Oklahoma, the tribes cite treaties signed with the federal government that date to the 1830s.
Water lawsuits are complicated, often emotional affairs, and this one is no different. The two sides have at times exchanged pointed comments in defending their positions. Nerves are frayed, although both parties have consistently said they would prefer not to litigate.
Some members of the task force have been involved in this case from the start — among them Gov. Mary Fallin, Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby, Choctaw Chief Greg Pyle and Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch. Others bring a different perspective — the heads of Oklahoma City energy companies Devon, Chesapeake and Continental Resources were tapped, as was Oklahoma City University President Robert Henry, a former federal judge.
A state Board of Education member from Durant is on the panel, along with the chairman of a farming/ranching operation in the Panhandle and the president of a Eufaula-based group called Save Our Water. Pete Delaney, chairman of OGE Energy, is on board.
The task force is made up of bright people who understand that a protracted, expensive lawsuit would only hurt Oklahoma. Here's hoping their work bears fruit.