The following is a story for you legal pundits to chew on. For those of you who aren’t legal pundits, I’m throwing in something in honor of Oktoberfest.
Each autumn the citizens of Texas and Oklahoma gear up for an annual competition pertaining to the Red River – a river that makes up a portion of the Oklahoma-Texas border. Usually, the competition takes place on a football field. This year a competition pertaining to the Red River has been taking place in federal court.
In 2007 the Tarrant Regional Water District in Texas filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma, claiming that the water district had the right to purchase water located in a particular region of Oklahoma, although that water is completely within the state of Oklahoma.
In its lawsuit the water district claims that the interstate Red River Compact of 1978 gives the state of Texas the right to use that water (that is completely within the state of Oklahoma), because that water is located within the Red River Basin.
The Texas State Attorney General sought to file an amicus brief favoring the plaintiff. In a February 2010 press release, the Attorney General’s office states, “Attorney General Abbott and TRWD believe the compact allows the district to access water before it flows into the Red River . . .”
When a district federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2010, the Tarrant Regional Water District filed an appeal with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On September 7th of this year, the 10th Circuit Court ruled in favor of Oklahoma. Ironically, the 10th Circuit Court cited the same Red River Compact, stating that the Compact protected Oklahoma from the kind of lawsuit filed by the Texas water district.
The water district petitioned the Court for a rehearing. In a filing at the Court, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board told the Court that “Texas has unused water stored in reservoirs that could be used.”
The plaintiff insists that it needs the water in Oklahoma because it has a water shortage. In an editorial one Oklahoma newspaper states, “The Texas water district that wants to buy water from southeastern Oklahoma describes its lack of water as a “shortage.” If that’s the case, all of southwestern Oklahoma is in “shortage” mode. Add much of central Oklahoma to that list, too.”
Could this particular dispute over water reach the U.S. Supreme Court? Well, yes it could. Earlier this year the Court heard arguments in the case of “Montana v. Wyoming and North Dakota“, a case pertaining to the Yellowstone River Compact.
Now, if you live in a state that has much more water than it can handle, then a story about water disputes may be boring to you. However, if you live in a drier state – such as Colorado – then the mere mention of water may be enough to start a fight, as illustrated by an opinion piece that the Denver Post published in 2008 after John McCain suggested that the Colorado River Compact be renegotiated. In the piece the author states, “We don’t vote for water rustlers in this state; we tar and feather them!”
Although you may not hear much about interstate water disputes in the nightly news, they do happen. In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in two such cases, “South Carolina v North Carolina” and “Hood ex rel. Mississippi v. City of Memphis”. A few years earlier, the state of California risked being sued for taking more water from the Colorado River than allocated to the state by the Colorado River Compact. Earlier this year, a Nevada newspaper reported, “California officials agreed in 2003 to stop taking more than its share from the Colorado, ensuring that Arizona and Nevada don’t get shortchanged.”
All too often, these water wars are the result of a growing human population in an area with a limited water supply, such as the Tarrant Regional Water District in Texas. As the climate in parts of the USA becomes drier, one can expect water wars to become a common topic in national news.
Will the Tarrant Regional Water District in Texas ever be able to obtain water from Oklahoma? Who knows? Still, it is rude to imply that Okies don’t need the water located in their state. Okies get thirsty, too, as shown by the following photo:
That reminds me . . .