The U.S. Supreme Court Says North Texas Has No Right to Oklahoma's Water

RedRiverCompact.jpg
Red River Compact
It's no secret that North Texas is lusting after Oklahoma's water. Here we are struggling to quench a thirsty and growing population, while our neighbor to the north hogs its bountiful supply of H2O, which is roughly 10 times its projected need.

The Tarrant Regional Water District made the first move in what has since become a sizeable water rights border war when it arranged to buy 150 billions of gallons per day from the southeastern part of the state to be piped to its customers in North Texas. The Oklahoma legislature responded by passing legislation banning out-of-state water sales, which prompted TRWD to sue.

The water district's argument centered on the Red River Compact, a 1978 agreement between Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas that established a minimum flow rate in the basins covered by the compact and gave each state the right to take 25-percent of the excess water. TRWD said it could take the water from anywhere in the basin regardless of political boundaries, Oklahoma disagreed, and the case wound up before the Supreme Court.

It's a big issue for the entire region, as the city of Dallas underscored when it submitted a friend-of-the-court brief urging justices to rule on its neighbor's behalf. If neighboring states are allowed to bar Texas from taking water, future supplies, and therefore growth, could be limited.

See also
The Supreme Court Will Decide if North Texas Can Take Oklahoma's Water

The Dallas Morning News issued its decision in the case on Tuesday, saying North Texans should be allowed to "gain access to water that is supposed to be theirs under a longstanding agreement.

The justices may be tempted by sovereignty arguments that were used by Oklahoma legislators to sustain a moratorium on the sale or transfer of water from Oklahoma to Texas. Here's the problem with that line of reasoning: Whenever a state enters into a compact, it by definition loses some of its sovereign rights ...

The Tarrant district isn't trying to take Oklahoma's water, as some have attempted to portray the situation. It is simply applying for water that is Texas' under the compact.

The state of Texas is guaranteed 25 percent of the basin in which Tarrant water authorities are seeking a permit. That's the same amount the compact guarantees Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana from the basin. Texas is not trying to seek a special status.

But the Supreme Court, in one of its increasingly rare kumbaya moments, disagreed. The justices voted 9-0 to uphold Oklahoma's decision to bar TRWD from taking water from across the border.

It was a simple decision, really, Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggests in her opinion on behalf of the court. The Red River Compact itself is "ambiguous regarding cross-border rights," so she turns to context to determine the intent of the signers of the compact.

Three things persuade the Court that the Compact did not grant cross-border rights: the well-established principle that States do not easily cede their sovereign powers; the fact that other interstate water compacts have treated cross-border rights explicitly; and the parties' course of dealing.

What she's referring to with that last point is TRWD's attempt to purchase water, which "was a strange decision if Tarrant believed the Compact entitled it to demand water without payment."

And so, Texas will have to look elsewhere for water. Surely Arkansas would love to pipe some of its water our way. Maybe Louisiana, too? Best to get started before they wise up and start passing laws against it.



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39 comments
Obummer
Obummer

Why is the prevailing wind in Texas from the south?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

The whole river flow is approx 36 billion gal per day.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

150 Billion per day?? Bollocks. Ever hear of, "verify, verify, verify?"

Merde.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Tarrant Cty IS willing to pay for the water, that was never the issue.  They were waiting on OK to arrive at a price. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Is OK willing to sell water?

CA is draining all of its ring states.

DSmithy3211
DSmithy3211

So this is really just caused by piss poor contract drafting by the Texas AG Office in 1980 and piss poor negotiating by NTWA/TRWD more recently? Got it.

If you read the amicus briefs supporting TRWD's position, they are laughable at best and amount to a "D/FW will die of thirst otherwise!" argument. Not exactly Clarence Darrow-level lawyering there...

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

growing up in western Colorado, we saw this a lot.  Downstream states on the Colorado river use more than their allotted acre-feet of water, Colorado uses less.  This gives great bargaining power to the upstream states and leaves the downstream states standing hat-in-hand.  About the only thing that will stop upstream states from damming the tributaries to capture their quota is habitat for endangered fish species.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

We'll need more water if we go to 15 million.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

It's not enough that OOPS is running around pissing people off all over the country by trying to steal jobs; he thinks he's entitled to steal another state's water.  What next?  Steal cattle from other plains states because he thinks he's entitled?

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Desalination from the gulf.

Plenty of water there.

mcdallas
mcdallas

Plenty of water in Texas.  We just don't yet have the fortitude to work through pipeline agreements to get it here.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

maybe pass legislation to not allow Texas money to flow into Oklahoma casinos?

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

Well, Rick and his supporters have always toyed with the idea of secession and being a self sufficient "country" that is only beholden unto ourselves. So now,  FEMA and the Supreme Court have essentially said "you fuck me? I fuck you" back to Rick. So now, we are good Christians that are ignorant, without proper medical care, breathing dirty air, and now being denied fluids. No where but Texas.


doublecheese
doublecheese

 "It was a simple decision, really, Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggests in her opinion on behalf of the court. The Red River Compact itself is "ambiguous regarding cross-border rights," so she turns to context to determine the intent of the signers of the compact."

Hey, why not just declare it a "living breathing compact" and just interpret it however we see fit, and disregard the intent of the signers?

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@RTGolden1 This is different.  Once the water hits the Red River it is useless, due to salinization, zebra muscles and other environmental concerns.  The proposal was initially a deal between the river flow from an Indian Reservation just before it enters the Red. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@RTGolden1 CO property owners can sell their water rights.   They can separate those rights from the land.

It is why you must watch out in CO if you buy a ranch.  

anon
anon

@holmantx If we restricted sprawl and the watering requirements of all those lots, we could "find" the water fairly easily. We're not actually running out of water, we're just running out of water given current consumption/development patterns. The reality is, we can't take it from Oklahoma, and the rural residents in our own state are figuring out how to stop cities from spoiling their back yards for the sake of master planned communities with HOAs that fine you if you don't have a green yard. 

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

@dallasdrilling.wordpress.com We are being denied our Precious Bodily Fluids.  The next thing you know is that we will have a mineshaft gap.

PersistentID2345
PersistentID2345

@dallasdrilling.wordpress.comIt was a basic contract law interpretation of a 1978 agreement. The issue was pushed by the Tarrant Regional Water District. The Court seems to have made the right decision based upon reading that interpretation.

"So now, we are good Christians that are ignorant, without proper medical care, breathing dirty air, and now being denied fluids. No where but Texas."

The primary reason we are 'without fluids' is that more and more blue state economic refugees are unable to realize how good they had it and instead are moving into our metropolitan areas to live among your ignorant yocals.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@scottindallas @RTGolden1 Interesting.  Shouldn't the Indian reservation have sovereignty over its water?  Or is that outside of their sovereign rights?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@holmantx @RTGolden1 Colorado residents do not 'own' their water rights.  They can't even harvest rainwater in colorado!  We had our water rights on our land up there, but let us try to divert a stream, even an intermittent one, and whoa, Katie bar the door, the lawyers were rounded up and herded into the courtroom.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@RTGolden1 @holmantx

Water lawyer Ann Castle, who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as assistant Secretary of the Interior for water and science, is a partner at Holland & Hart in Denver.

“To create a water right, one must make an appropriation,” Castle wrote in “Water Rights Law-Prior Appropriation.” “The essential elements of an appropriation are the diversion of water and its application to a beneficial use. ”

Water rights, Castle said, are similar to real property rights. “(They) can be conveyed, mortgaged and encumbered in the same manner, all independently of the land on which the water originates, or on which it is used.”

First in use, first in right

by John Hazlehurst

Colorado Springs Business Journal

Published: May 29,2009 


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