Oklahoma v. Texas--Water Wars

Posted on August 24, 2010 by Linda C. Martin

Tarrant Regional Water District (“TRWD”) provides water to more than 1.7 million Texans in an 11-county area, and wants to buy water from Oklahoma. However, Oklahoma isn’t selling. Oklahoma has enacted statutes that impose restrictions on water sales across state lines which, as a practical matter, preclude the interstate sale of Oklahoma water to the TRWD. In 2007, TRWD sued to have those restrictions lifted, arguing that under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, state laws that discriminate against other states regarding water, an alleged article of commerce, are unconstitutional.

TRWD also argued that the Red River Compact (“Compact”) supersedes Oklahoma’s laws and would permit the sale of water to TRWD. This Compact was signed by Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas in 1978 and approved by the U.S. Congress in 1980. The Compact essentially “divided” the water from the Red River and its tributaries between the states involved. In November, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma granted partial summary judgment rejecting TRWD’s claims based upon the Commerce Clause. The Court determined that, in fact, protection of Oklahoma water for use in Oklahoma was one of the purposes of the Compact, although the judge noted that this case presented a close question.

TRWD amended its complaint, and argued that the law in Oklahoma would not preclude the sale of groundwater to TRWD. Although the judge agreed, he determined that this claim was not yet ripe for consideration, as TRWD had not yet filed an application with Oklahoma to obtain groundwater. In addition, another new claim was added--- that the purchase of water from the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma was not covered by the Compact. This claim was dismissed as not providing the basis for a justiciable claim, since the arrangement with the Tribe had too many contingencies and uncertainties.

The judge entered judgment in the TRWD case on July 16, 2010, and TRWD filed its appeal with the Tenth Circuit on August 12, 2010. Stay tuned, the water wars between Oklahoma and Texas are far from over.



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