In the latest twist in the Tarrant Regional Water District's four-year battle to obtain Oklahoma water, an Oklahoma state senator has introduced legislation to sell water to out-of-state customers.
The Oklahoma Water Center Act would create a state agency with "authority and duties relating to the transfer of water for use outside the state."
It would also give the give the new Oklahoma Water Center the mandate to develop "a fee schedule for the transfer of water apportioned to Oklahoma by interstate compacts outside the state."
The language was inserted into Senate Bill 741 last week by Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, as a floor substitute. It is still waiting to be heard by the full Senate.
Jim Oliver, the water district's general manager, said he wants to review the legislation before commenting but reiterated the district's desire to negotiate a water sale.
"As we have said many times, we are a willing buyer of Oklahoma's surplus water," Oliver said. "This water is leaving the state via the Red River every day. So we do welcome legislation which could lead to potentially beneficial discussions."
Exploring the issue
Fields could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Oklahoma Republicans have expressed interest this legislative session in exploring out-of-state sales.
Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa and president pro-tem of the Oklahoma Senate, told the Star-Telegram last month that he is open-minded on the issue. But he said he's waiting for Oklahoma's water study to be completed in the fall.
A spokesman for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin also told the Star-Telegram last month that she will use the water study as a "springboard for further discussions about this issue."
State Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, a longtime critic of water sales to Texas whose district includes a large swath of water-rich southeastern Oklahoma, was quoted Tuesday by The Journal Record newspaper in Oklahoma as saying: "They need to let Texas take care of Texas and let Oklahoma take care of Oklahoma. There isn't anybody in Texas that's thirsty; they want the water for industrial use."
Taking it to court
The water district wants to divert more than 130 billion gallons of water from river basins just north of the Red River and provide it to the district's growing population, which has been projected at 4.3 million by 2060, though that number may climb when new census data are analyzed.
The district filed permit applications in 2007 to capture water from three river basins in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma before it enters the Red River and takes on too much salt to be drinkable.
At the same time, the district sued the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission to keep its permit applications from being dismissed while the matter was in court.
In July, an Oklahoma federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the water district appealed the case to the 10th Circuit. The water district's appeal was heard Tuesday before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Dallas Water Utilities, the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Upper Trinity Regional Water District have since become parties to the lawsuit.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698