Oklahoma-Texas water dispute at high court

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 23, 2013 at 2:31 pm •  Published: April 23, 2013
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court appeared skeptical Tuesday of a claim by Texas that it has a right under a 30-year-old agreement to cross the border with Oklahoma for water to serve the fast-growing Fort Worth area.

The justices heard arguments in a dispute over access to southeastern Oklahoma tributaries of the Red River that separates Oklahoma and Texas.

The Tarrant Regional Water District serving an 11-county area in north-central Texas including Fort Worth and Arlington wants to buy 150 billion gallons of water and says the four-state Red River Compact gives it the right to do so. Arkansas and Louisiana are the other participating states and they are siding with Oklahoma.

Several justices pointed to the absence of an explicit approval for cross-border water sales in the agreement.

"This clause, the one that you rely on, is kind of sketchy, isn't it? Doesn't say how they're going to get it, if they're going to pay for it. There's a lot to be filled in," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said to Charles Rothfeld, the lawyer representing the Texas district.

To the contrary, Rothfeld said, "it is quite clear" that the four states have equal rights to the water in the stretch of the Red River at issue before the Supreme Court.

Justice Samuel Alito called Texas' aggressive language "very striking. I mean, it sounds like they are going to send in the National Guard or the Texas Rangers."

Rothfeld sought to assure Alito on that point. "Oklahoma's brief suggests that the Texas Rangers are going to descend on Tulsa and seize the water. That is not what is contemplated," Rothfeld said.

District officials say that Oklahoma has more than 10 times the water it needs to meet its own needs and the district wants only about 6 percent of water flowing into the Red River — water that eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. They say drawing water directly from the river is not financially feasible because of salinity issues.

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