Oklahoma's next governor will carry the water, so to speak, on three water issues poised to affect Oklahoma and surrounding states for decades to come.
Those issues are implementing a statewide water use plan, whether to sell water to other states and who has the rights to the state's water.
The gubernatorial candidates, Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and Republican nominee U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, agree the statewide water use plan will guide all things water in the next governor's administration.
That years-in-making study is to be delivered to the Legislature next year.
It details how the state should use its water in the future.
Asked what she expects from the study, Askins said: "We have to be able to look long-term. I really and truly do believe that as governor for four years that trying to work with the Legislature on whatever the long-term (water) plan is for the state of Oklahoma will be one of the major goals that we need to accomplish."
Fallin's take on the water use plan is similar.
"I think it's very important that we get that plan in hand and begin designing a long-term water policy plan for the state of Oklahoma that will guarantee every Oklahoman in every corner of the state that Oklahomans' water will be for Oklahomans, first and foremost."
Texans and tribes
Sure to be factors in future water discussions regardless of the findings of the study are a Texas water district and Oklahoma tribal nations.
A federal judge last month dismissed the Tarrant Regional Water District's lawsuit seeking access to Oklahoma water, but the North Texas district last week told the court it will appeal.
"While we prefer a conference room over a courtroom, we have no choice but to continue a vigorous pursuit of our case through the federal court system. We are committed to do so and believe we will prevail in the long run based on the soundness of our case," Jim Oliver, the district's general manager, said.
Askins and Fallin said they want to see the water use plan before deciding whether they support selling Oklahoma's water to another state.
"I will always believe that we first take care of the people of Oklahoma," Askins said. "We must make certain that our folks are assured that the water supply will be there as long as they need."
Fallin said: "Until we get a report back on the plan that is being developed, I think it would be very premature, and frankly, not responsible to begin any discussion about what we do in the future without seeing what the plan is first."
Also factoring into future water plans are two tribes, the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, who recently have said they want in on future water discussions.
Askins said elected officials need to educate themselves on tribal water rights and involve the tribes in discussions.
Fallin said: "In implementing the plan, I think the legislators and the governor and certainly all parties interested in water and the future of Oklahoma need to have an open line of communication."
Sardis Lake decision
The Choctaws and Chickasaws have taken issue with how Gov. Brad Henry, current legislative leaders and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board handled a recent deal giving Oklahoma City access to much of the water in southeast Oklahoma's Sardis Lake. The tribes said they were left out of discussions despite having rights to the water.
Askins also took issue with the Sardis Lake deal.
"I'm disappointed that the Water Resources Board felt like they had to make a decision before the water study is completed and before a plan is in place," she said.
The board approved the deal with Oklahoma City in June in part because of a deadline on a payment the state owed the federal government for building the lake. Oklahoma City paid the state's $27 million debt on the lake as part of the deal for its water. The Choctaw Nation had also offered to pay the debt.
Fallin wouldn't say whether she thinks the Sardis deal is a good one.
"I'm just going to focus on what we can do moving forward. That's something that's already transpired," she said. "I know the Legislature and the governor have had to make some tough decisions and work through a lot of different issues, and that's the past and I'm looking forward to working in the future."
"I will always believe that we first take care of the people of Oklahoma. We must make certain that our folks are assured that the water supply will be there as long as they need."
Lt. Gov. Jari Askins