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July 20, 2012

Tribes, state to keep negotiating

Oklahoma City — A federal judge issued an additional 60-day stay in the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations’ lawsuit against Oklahoma and Oklahoma City over management of southeastern Oklahoma water.

Acting on a joint motion of the parties, Lee West, U.S. District Judge for the Western District Court of Oklahoma, issued the stay so the tribes, the state of Oklahoma, a Duke University law professor and 19-member blue ribbon panel have additional time to perhaps find common ground on water issues located within tribal territories.

A status report was due today by all parties involved in litigation but West’s stay moved that deadline to September 18.

The Chickasaw and Choctaws filed suit last year against the state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Board and other entities.

At issue is removal of water from Sardis Lake — located in eastern Oklahoma — to Oklahoma City. The two tribes contend water in the 22-county tribal territory should not be pumped to Oklahoma City because they have virtually no input in decisions concerning the removal of water. Both tribes contend they merely desire a “place at the table” after having their desires and concerns ignored for years by Oklahoma.

In May, both tribes and Oklahoma named a 19-member panel comprised of captains of industry, finance, oil and gas, environmentalists, tribal VIPs, and even a Panhandle rancher to explore where all factions might find agreement. The order Friday by West will keep the panel talking for another 60 days.

Francis McGovern, the Duke law professor, was appointed to mediate disagreements between factions in an effort to avert a full-fledged federal court lawsuit which could take years to settle.

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