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U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear water case pitting Oklahoma against Texas

The Obama administration and Texas water district want case reviewed by Supreme Court because lower courts have ruled that Oklahoma could pass laws protecting water within its own boundaries.
by Chris Casteel Modified: January 4, 2013 at 7:48 pm •  Published: January 4, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to intervene in a high-stakes case brought by a North Texas agency that wants to tap water from drought-stricken Oklahoma to supply a growing urban area.

Justices are expected to determine whether a 1980 compact gives Texas the right to take water from Oklahoma to fulfill the share allocated to Texas from the Red River Basin. But, according to the Obama administration, even a ruling favoring Texas wouldn't necessarily mean the Fort Worth-Arlington area would get Oklahoma water every year.

The administration asked the Supreme Court to take the case, as did the Tarrant Regional Water District. The state of Oklahoma urged the high court to reject the case, arguing that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals properly decided that Texas has no right to Oklahoma's water.

The 1980 compact among Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana apportioned the Red River and its tributaries based on geography and flow rates of the basin's waters. One section of the compact gives the four states equal rights to water runoff in a part of the basin when the flow of the river reaches a certain rate.

The Tarrant County Water District contends that section of the law gives Texas the right to its 25 percent share even if it has to get water from Oklahoma. The U.S. Justice Department agrees, saying that section of the compact makes no reference to state boundaries.

However, lower federal courts agreed with Oklahoma's contention that the state has the right to enact laws protecting water within its boundaries.

It's not clear when the justices will hear oral arguments in the case.

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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