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Oklahoma State Supreme Court to take up water issue

Oklahoma's high court has agreed to decide whether the state or two Oklahoma-based tribes have the rights to water in southeastern Oklahoma.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: February 24, 2012

The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed Thursday to decide whether the state or two American Indian tribes have the rights to the water of three major stream systems in southeastern Oklahoma.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a lawsuit earlier this month on behalf of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board asking the Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction over a comprehensive stream adjudication to determine water rights.

The Chickasaw and Choctaw nations claim the water rights were granted to them in the 1830s through a series of treaties with the federal government and that any removal of water is in direct violation of federal law.

Hearing planned in April

The high court's refusal to take jurisdiction would have meant the lawsuit would have to be filed in district court, which would be a lengthier process because a ruling there could be appealed to the Supreme Court.

All nine justices concurred with the decision to accept jurisdiction of the case. An April 19 hearing is scheduled before a Supreme Court referee.

“We're pleased with the Supreme Court's swift and decisive decision to take jurisdiction in this case,” said Diane Clay, Pruitt's spokeswoman. “We believe the action shows the court's understanding that water rights issues are important to all Oklahomans.”

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