Oklahoma City officials want millions of gallons of water from Sardis Lake, an untapped reservoir nestled in the Kiamichi Mountains.
The water is crucial for growing communities in central Oklahoma because the region’s demand is expected to exceed supply within the next 20 years.
Anticipating that shortage, city and state officials recently proposed the city’s water trust pay the state $42 million to access the Sardis Lake water for use in central Oklahoma.
Southeast Oklahoma politicians last week vowed to block the deal, claiming it robs one region to benefit another.
"To transfer a valuable natural resource from a poor area to a rich area is nothing short of regional discrimination,” said Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, during a recent news conference held by southeast Oklahoma politicians who oppose the city’s offer.
The opposition surprised Oklahoma City officials because the city has for more than half a century used water from southeast Oklahoma, where water is more plentiful than in western Oklahoma.
In the late 1950s, the city built a pipeline that carries water about 100 miles from Atoka Lake to Oklahoma City’s Lake Stanley Draper. There, the water is treated and distributed to customers. The city has since tapped other southeast Oklahoma water sources.
Today, about two thirds of Oklahoma City’s water comes from the southeastern part of the state, Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch said.
The city also serves rural water districts in southeast Oklahoma, Couch said.
Previous efforts by the city to tap Sardis Lake have been unsuccessful.
In landlocked areas such as Oklahoma, few natural resources are as valuable as water.
Sardis Lake has long been considered a vital future water source by local governments, Indian tribes and even Texas water utilities. Recreation enthusiasts and environmental groups also have an interest in the lake.
Plans to use Sardis Lake water have been discussed publicly by central Oklahoma officials for years.
Discussions ramped up last year when a study identified the lake as the best potential water source for central Oklahoma through at least 2060.
As a result, the governments agreed to form an entity called the Oklahoma Regional Water Utilities Trust that would pay to bring water from Sardis Lake to central Oklahoma.
However, Oklahoma City proceeded with an offer for the water because city water trust officials saw an opportunity to secure it by paying off a $27 million settlement the state was ordered to pay in 2008 through a federal lawsuit related to the lake’s construction.
The state’s first payment toward that settlement is due this summer, leaving little time for the regional trust to form and make an offer for the Sardis Lake water.