Leaders of both tribes involved in a federal lawsuit against the state over water rights in southeastern Oklahoma expressed optimism Wednesday about negotiations on the issue.
“I have hope for the future,” Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby said after speaking to about 20 lieutenant governors attending the National Lieutenant Governors Association's annual meeting in downtown Oklahoma City. “The Texas case, we have that behind us now. I think there's time to really focus.”
The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled in favor of Oklahoma that Texas can't reach across the border to claim a share of the Kiamichi River to serve the growing Fort Worth area.
The 2011 federal lawsuit was filed by the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations in an attempt to stop Oklahoma's plans to draw water from Sardis Lake in Pushmataha County and deliver it to Oklahoma City. The tribes are claiming water rights in much of southeastern Oklahoma, challenging the authority of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to authorize the sale and transfer of water from property within tribal jurisdictions without first negotiating permission from the tribes.
The lawsuit has been on hold for more than a year as the state and the tribes negotiate. A mediator is no longer involved, which is considered a good sign.
“The mediator got us to a real good point,” said Brian McClain, executive director for legislative advocacy and water resources for the Choctaw Nation. “We can move forward.”