I’m proud to be part of the recently announced water rights settlement agreement among the state of Oklahoma, the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations and Oklahoma City. By choosing cooperation and collaboration over conflict and litigation, this historic agreement strengthens governmental relationships based on the common interests of the state and the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations.
Having a sufficient, reliable supply of water is essential for life, economic development, manufacturing, recreational activities, and important industry sectors like agriculture and energy.
The settlement, which will be presented to Congress for final approval, will resolve long-standing questions over water rights ownership and regulatory authority over the waters of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations’ historic treaty territories, an area that spans approximately 22 counties in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma.
Under the agreement, the state will continue to exercise its authority to manage and protect water resources in Oklahoma. This way, existing uses of water remain secure, and it provides certainty for future development.
The agreement also gives the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations a voice in specific proceedings addressing water resources within their treaty territories. They rightly will play a role in significant water allocation and management evaluations within the settlement area.
This agreement is an important first step in all Oklahomans coming together to address the wise use and protection of our shared water resources.
It also fully resolves the state’s debt to the federal government for the construction of Sardis Lake, ensuring Oklahoma City has a reliable water supply while providing a standard to protect lake levels in Sardis, which we all agree is very important.
A mechanism is in place to collaboratively address any possible out-of-state water use IF out-of-state water use is ever authorized by the Legislature. It will provide protections for the source basin and region while ensuring the entire state benefits.
With this agreement, the rural communities and recreational and ecological values of south-central and southeastern Oklahoma are preserved and protected. And Oklahoma City has a path to obtain access to sufficient water to secure the economic posterity of central Oklahoma for generations to come.
Without this agreement, existing water rights – for urban, agricultural, industrial uses – and development for future uses and needs would remain uncertain.
When finalized, the agreement will protect existing rights and provide certainty for the development of future uses both in and outside southeastern Oklahoma.
After the agreement is signed by all parties, it must be approved by federal legislation and executed by the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
We will be asking our Congressional delegation to spearhead legislation that will:
• Approve the transfer of the state’s Sardis storage to the city of Oklahoma City.
• Approve the transfer of the state’s financial obligations to the city.
• Forgive and waive all future use debt associated with Sardis because Sardis storage associated with future use will remain in the lake for recreation and wildlife purposes. It will not be used directly for drinking water supply.
• Direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve an amended storage contract transfer agreement between the state and the city, transferring all of the state’s rights and obligations related to Sardis, including waiver of the debt related to future use storage.
More information about the agreement can be found by visiting www.waterunityok.com
I appreciate all sides working diligently to find common ground to reach this agreement. It strengthens governmental relationships based on the common interests of the state and the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations.
And I applaud the determination and visionary leadership of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations and Oklahoma City. All parties worked tirelessly to reach an agreement that would be fair to everyone.