Oklahoma tribes herald 'momentous achievement' on water rights

The water right settlement was announced a press conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on August 11, 2016. Photo fromChicksaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby

The Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation announced a water rights settlement with the state of Oklahoma on Thursday.

The deal recognizes the tribes' role in determining how water in approximately 22 counties in the south-central and southeastern parts of the state will be allocated. The area is covered by the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

More specifically, the settlement resolves the tribes concerns over Sardis Lake in Choctaw territory. The state won't be allowed to transfer water from the lake to out-of-state entities if the agreement becomes final.

The provision ensures that Oklahoma City, the capital and largest the state, will able to tap into Sardis Lake for future needs. The city is a party to the settlement.

"This agreement is a win for all Oklahomans," Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a press release. "We have forged this deal based on our common interests with an understanding that we all want the same thing – to take care of our vital water resources responsibly with respect to the needs of all Chickasaws, Choctaws and Oklahomans. The Nations now have a meaningful and active voice in significant water transfers from our area."

"Importantly, moving forward, both the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations will have a seat at the table in the protection of southeastern Oklahoma water resources for municipal and recreational use. And, as we all know, a vibrant recreation and tourism industry creates jobs and strengthens economies inside and outside of the settlement area," added Choctaw Chief Gary Batton.

The parties unveiled the Water Unity Oklahoma website to provide more information about their "momentous achievement." They will work together in hopes of securing approval from Congress before the end of the session in December.

"I have been on the bench for 51 years, but this is an especially proud moment to witness all of these diverse parties coming together to find solutions that are in the best interest of all Oklahomans and my home state," said Judge Lee R. West of the federal court in western Oklahoma. "This is without doubt an historic achievement."

The tribes filed their complaint in August 2011. They almost immediately began talks with the state and the parties filed a notice in court on Wednesday announcing they had reached a deal.

The federal government, as a trustee for the tribes, recently entered discussions, according to the notice. The United States is not a party to the case but the Department of Justice is involved a closely-related matter with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

Read More on the Story:
Tribes, state and OKC reach ‘historic’ water-rights agreement, ending 5-year battle (Red Dirt News 8/11)
Tribes, Oklahoma reach deal on water rights dispute (AP 8/11)
Oklahoma officials reveal details of historic water rights agreement (The Oklahoman 8/12)
Native American Tribes, State, Oklahoma City Settle Centuries-Old Water Dispute (KGOU 8/12)
State, tribes settle Sardis dispute (The Tahlequah Daily Press 8/12)
Lawsuit keeps Texas from tapping into Okla. lakes, rivers (The Dallas Morning News 8/12)

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