U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Tarrant-Oklahoma water dispute

Posted Saturday, Jan. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The United States Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear the Tarrant Regional Water District's lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma over control of water that flows from several of its river basins into the Red River.

The water district sued Oklahoma in January 2007, seeking to divert more than 130 billion gallons from those basins just north of the Red River as part of a long-term water supply for North Texas.

"We are extremely pleased our request for writ of certiorari has been granted by the Supreme Court of the United States," said Jim Oliver, general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District. "We expect the Supreme Court's decision will bring finality to the legal issues that have precluded us from addressing regional water needs due to the growing population in the Metroplex."

If the court had decided not to hear the case, it would have left unchallenged decisions by an Oklahoma federal judge and a federal appeals court in Denver that Oklahoma has the right to refuse to sell water to out-of-state customers. It likely would have meant the end of the case.

"We successfully defended Oklahoma's right to protect its natural resources at the district court and circuit court of appeals, and we will continue that fight at the Supreme Court," said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

In December, the U.S. Solicitor General recommended that the court hear the case, saying that it involves important state interests protected by an interstate compact. The solicitor general is appointed by the White House to represent the views of the federal government in Supreme Court cases.

The water district has contended that the lawsuit could affect interstate water compacts nationwide, while Oklahoma's lawyers have said it is a narrow dispute.

The case revolves around the Red River Compact, which says each state gets an "equitable apportionment of water" from the Red River and its tributaries. Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana signed the compact, which was approved by Congress in 1980.

The water district contends that the Oklahoma Legislature violated the compact by passing a 2009 bill requiring that the legislative body approve any transfer of Oklahoma water to other states.

The district has said more than 18 metropolitan areas nationwide rely on water supplies governed by interstate compacts, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento, Calif., Denver, Atlanta, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

"The Tarrant Regional Water District has worked for many years to resolve the legal questions concerning rights to water under the Red River Compact," Oliver said. "We look forward to presenting our case and we are hopeful the end result will be an opportunity to move forward in a constructive manner."

After the water district sued Oklahoma in 2007, other water providers including Dallas and the North Texas Municipal Water District, which supplies water to some Dallas suburbs, joined the suit.

In July 2010, an Oklahoma federal judge dismissed the suit, and the district appealed the case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In September 2011, a three-judge panel upheld the lower court's dismissal, and in October 2011 the 10th Circuit denied a request for rehearing before the full court.

Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714

Twitter: @MaxBBaker

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