Protecting Water Resources a Priority

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Chiefs of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, the city of Oklahoma City and the state reached what many are calling an historic agreement last week over access rights to water from Sardis Lake in Southeastern Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board on Friday approved the settlement and the Oklahoma City Council followed suit on Tuesday, but it still needs the approval of each of the tribal governments, theWater Utility Trust, the governor, the state attorney general and the U.S. Congress, as well as the signature of the president.

While this agreement doesn’t affect people in District 59, it does remind me of the near draining of Canton Lake in 2013 to quench the needs of Oklahoma City, which owns the water rights to the lake.

The fight over Lake Sardis has been a long one and had the potential to be even longer and more costly if it continued to be fought in court.

The two First Nations filed suit in 2011 over Oklahoma City’s plan to transfer water from Sardis Lake, saying they owned the water rights as part of the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek signed in 1830. The state argued a pact signed in 1866 negated the terms of the earlier treaty and gave the water resources board the right to allocate the water.

What is significant is that major entities were able to come to an agreement that promises to help meet the future needs of Oklahoma City and the metro area while maintaining water levels at Sardis Lake. This water is an important resource for Southeastern Oklahoma for recreation and economic development as well as conservation and to take care of the needs of area residents. The settlement gives the tribes – on whose land the water is located – a voice in what happens to the water going forward.

For Canton Lake, 30,000 acre feet of water was released to Oklahoma City in 2013. This hampered local conservation and recreation efforts and was a concern to the 200,000 local residents that rely on the lake as a water supply. It has taken three years to get water levels to come back to normal. I’ll be looking closely at the Sardis agreement to see how I can work to similarly protect Canton Lake in the future.

There are some things in the Sardis Lake agreement that bear some close scrutiny by lawmakers. Language in the agreement establishes a commission to evaluate and govern any possible future watersales to out-of-state interests. This has long been prohibited and can only be sanctioned by the Legislature. It’s important that we maintain this moratorium.

Some would argue that water is more important than oil at this point in our nation. It’s certainly a more costly resource. It must be protected for the benefit of our state residents now and in the future.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or(405) 557-7407.

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