March 16, 2012
Wesley Burt

Majority of Oklahomans oppose out-of-state water sales

Most likely Oklahoma voters oppose the sale of water to out-of-state districts and communities, such as Texas, according to a recent SoonerPoll study.

Results indicate that 65 percent of likely Oklahoma voters polled oppose selling water to out of state districts and communities, compared to 29.3 percent who support selling. Just 5.7 percent of respondents had no opinion.

Opposition to water sales has increased by more than 10 percentage points since the last time SoonerPoll polled the question.

“I knew the margin was huge in people opposing out-of-state water sales, because growth will go where the water goes and we want growth right here in Oklahoma,” said Sen. Jerry Ellis, D–Valliant.

Sen. Ellis and Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, are carrying HB 2552, a piece of legislation which would require any act relating to waters and water rights receive approval from the Oklahoma voters in a state referendum, as well as consent of the Oklahoma Legislature.

“This is very important, it’s the most valuable natural resource,” Ellis said. “We’re saying that the final decision should be with the voters in the state of Oklahoma and it should be on the ballot to the voters.”

In recent years, decisions about selling water out-of-state have been steeped in controversy.

Many communities in north Texas have experienced major growth in the last decade. However, to sustain their growth, those communities need a valuable resource: water.

To satisfy that need, Texas communities turned their eyes upon southeastern Oklahoma’s free-flowing waters, but controversy arose when Oklahoma refused to sell.

A 2006 moratorium on out-of-state water sales passed in the Oklahoma legislature sparked the Tarrant (Texas) Regional Water District to file a lawsuit which still hasn’t been resolved.
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Ellis said that protecting our natural resources for future growth is important, but there are other factors which complicate the lawsuit.

“This gets into the Red River Compact,” Ellis said. “We have a compact that takes in four states, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, you have to think of the people downstream, and I can assure you all of this water that you’re talking about is allocated and compacted water.”

Ellis said the Red River Compact is the reason Oklahoma has won against the Tarrant Regional Water District four times in federal court; three times in U.S. District Court, and one time in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“When you start pulling water out before it goes into the Red River, you are going to change the quality and quantity of everything that is left,” Ellis said. “In other words, you’re going to affect irrigation in SW Arkansas, you’re going to affect Shreveport, La., you are going to affect everything down stream.”

In January, the Tarrant Regional Water District asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider overturning the 10th Circuit U.S Court of Appeals ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed and justices are expected to consider the water district's petition at a private conference on March 23.

“It’s the lifeblood of any state or people, and we just want to make sure that Oklahoma has enough water to grow in the future,” Ellis said., Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, commissioned and conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 512 likely voters from Nov. 17 – Dec. 6. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.3 percent.

Wesley Burt
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Wesley Burt