Supreme Court Rejects Texas Claim to Oklahoma Water

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    The Supreme Court has unanimously rejected Texas' claim 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. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

    The Supreme Court on Thursday decisively sided with Oklahoma and rejected Texas' claim that it has a right under a 30-year-old agreement to cross their common border for water to serve the fast-growing Fort Worth area.

    The justices unanimously said that the Red River Compact "creates no cross-border rights in Texas."

    The case concerns 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 said the four-state compact gives it the right to do so.  Arkansas and Louisiana are the other participating states, and they sided with Oklahoma.

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor's opinion for the court made plain that the justices did not find this a close case. "We hold that Tarrant's claims lack merit," Sotomayor said.

    The case arose from a federal lawsuit the district filed in 2007 against the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission that challenged the state's water laws and sought a court order to prevent the board from enforcing them. 

    Lower courts ruled for Oklahoma, including the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It found that the Red River Compact protects Oklahoma's water statutes from the legal challenge.

    Legislation adopted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 said no out-of-state water permit can prevent Oklahoma from meeting its obligations under compacts with other states. It also requires the Water Resources Board to consider in-state water shortages or needs when considering applications for out-of-state water sales.

    Jim Oliver, general manager of Tarrant Regional Water District, released the following statement:
    “Obviously, we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision. Securing additional water resources is essential to North Texas’ continued growth and prosperity and will remain one of our top priorities. The population in our service area is expected to double over the next fifty years so we will act quickly to develop new sources. The decision does not address the problem of Oklahoma’s lack of water infrastructure, and we believe solutions that benefit both Texas and Oklahoma still exist. We will continue to explore and advance those opportunities.” 

    The Obama administration backed the Texas district at the Supreme Court, saying Oklahoma may not categorically prohibit Texas water users from obtaining water in Oklahoma. But the administration took no position on whether the Texans ultimately should get the water they are seeking in this case.

    Read the full opinion on the case here: Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, et al.

    The Tarrant Regional Water District serves 1.7 million people living in the cities of Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield, all of Wise, Tarrant, Ellis and Navarro counties and parts of Jack, Parker, Johnson, Freestone and Henderson counties as well as the Trinity River Authority.

    Fort Worth wholesales water to the following cities: Aledo, Bethesda, Benbrook, Burleson, Crowley, Dalworthington Gardens, Edgecliff Village, Everman, Forest Hill, Grand Prairie, Haltom City, Haslet, Hurst, Keller, Kennedale, Lake Worth, Northlake, North Richland Hills, Richland Hills, Roanoke, Saginaw, Sansom Park Village, Southlake, Watauga, Westover Hills, Westworth Village, Westlake, White Settlement, DFW Airport and Trophy Club.

    The Trinity River Authority wholesales water to the following cities: Bedford, Colleyville, Euless, Grapevine, North Richland Hills, Ennis, Avalon, Ferris, Italy, Maypearl, Midlothian, Palmer, Red Oak, Ellis County Water, Nash-Forreston, Venus and Rockett Special Utility District. Additionally, Weatherford, Benbrook, Hudson Oaks, Kemp, Mabank, Malakoff, Star Harbor, Trinidad, Exelon, Payne Springs, Seven Points, Tool, Cal Pine/Freestone, Corsicana and Fairfield all receive water from the TRWD.

    The TRWD implemented Stage 1 of its Drought Contingency Plan on June 3. According to its website:

    Residential customers whose addresses end in odd numbers (1,3,5,7 or 9) will be permitted to only water lawns and landscapes with sprinklers on Sundays and Thursdays. Addresses ending in even numbers (2,4,6,8 or 0) may only water on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Non-residential customers, including apartments, businesses, parks and common areas, may only water on Tuesdays and Fridays.