Oklahoma residents oppose water sale to Texas
Author: Ellen Chang
North Texas localities - particularly cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area - want to purchase water from 22 southern counties of Oklahoma, but some residents in the Sooner state are fighting against a possible sale.
North Texas is proposing to buy water to be used in the next three to 20 years and is now negotiating with Oklahoma water board officials. The area needs about 600,000 acre feet of water for the next 50 years.
"It's simply a matter they have raised and said 'We have excess water,'" said Jim Parks, executive director of the North Texas Municipal Water District and chairman of a coalition of five water districts, the North Texas Water Alliance. "We have a need and yes, we're interested in buying it."
But the Southern Oklahoma Water Alliance, formed by residents in April, is opposed to any sale, fearful that landowners would lose their groundwater rights or be forced to deliver water during a drought.
The sale of water could bring about $10 million to Oklahoma each year, said Fred Bray, president of the water alliance.
Bray said that residents also want to ensure that if water were sold to Texas, all of the money would be used locally for infrastructure and other needs. He said the financial impact of the sale will be minimal compared with the potential environmental impact.
"It's not a very convincing argument," he said. "It's all about money."
Before water could be sold to Texas, the Oklahoma Legislature would have to approve the sale.
Bray said it is important for the issue to be studied from all aspects because of its complexities. The group remains skeptical and is concerned that once a deal is negotiated, it would be difficult to alter it and protect landowners' rights.
Many other states such as California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Colorado are currently buying water from other states, Bray said.
But Bray is against treating water as a commodity. "We are against the sale of water to Texas," he said. "We don't believe we can trust Texas to live up to the contract."
The group has requested an opinion on whether Oklahoma is legally allowed to sell water to Texas from the Oklahoma attorney general's office.
Besides the reluctance of the residents in Oklahoma, the state must first settle the issue of who retains the rights to the water. The state is currently negotiating with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian Nations on a compact to resolve who has the rights to the surface water and how revenue would be divided.
Even though North Texas has water conservation and reuse methods in place already, the region has 25 percent of the state's population and needs to plan for additional sources of water, Parks said. The area's population is expected to increase to 10 million in the next 50 years.
Parks said the North Texas Water Alliance has not determined the cost of purchasing water because it depends on how it would be transported and whether it would come from an existing source.
Still, Parks said he understands the concerns of the Oklahoma residents. "The people in any area are going to be concerned about any resource moving out of their area."