We've discussed battles over water rights previously — and certainly will again. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court basically told Texas it has no right to claim billions of gallons of water on the Oklahoma side of the Red River. The Court reinforced an existing compact between those two states, Arkansas and Louisiana. Stateline reports:
The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday unanimously rejected a Texas water district’s attempt to tap river water in Oklahoma, settling a dispute that raised questions about state sovereignty and natural resources at a time when water is increasingly scarce and fought over.
The ruling found that the Texas authority had no right to the water in question, despite a four-state pact designed to ensure equal access to the water that flows in the Red River. The Tarrant Regional Water District had filed a lawsuit in 2007 saying Texas was entitled to some 130 billion gallons of water on Oklahoma’s side of the river basin.
As Stateline previously reported, the questions at the heart of the case have taken on increasing importance as drought and water shortages have strained water supplies and relations among many western states.
The dispute was seen as a potential test case for states’ rights over natural resources, but it’s likely the effect will be narrow, Marguerite Chapman, a law professor at the University of Tulsa, said.
“I think it affirms the integrity of an interstate compact as essentially a contract,” she said. “I don’t think it will disturb other compacts…the far-reaching effect would essentially be affirming the language that’s in the contract.”
The case centered on the Red River Compact that was signed by Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana and approved by Congress in 1980.
The compact grants the states “equal rights to the use and runoff” of undesignated, or unallocated, water that flows in the sub-basin where the Tarrant district is staking its claim — but only if flows to Louisiana and Arkansas reach a certain threshold.
“No state is entitled to more than 25 percent of the water,” the pact says.
The compact has been in place for decades, but Oklahoma lawmakers enacted a moratorium on cross-state transfers in 2002. When the original moratorium expired in 2009, the Oklahoma legislature overhauled the state’s permitting process to effectively exclude out-of-state applicants for water.