Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma agreed last June to allow the city to pay the state $42 million for storage rights to 90 percent of Sardis Lake located in far southeastern Oklahoma.
The Chickasaw and Choctaw nations took exception to the arrangement, saying it wasn’t legal due to treaties with tribes agreed to even before statehood.
In February, the two tribes sent a strongly worded letter to city and state leaders threatening that continuing action regarding Lake Sardis could result in “the triggering of complex federal law litigation,” according to The Oklahoman.
According to The Oklahoman, the letter, written by Michael Burrage, attorney for the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, said Oklahoma City is engaging in “unilateral aggression” and “squandering of public money on a flawed plan.”
“Tribal leaders want common sense and sustainable water resource management, just like everyone else, and plainly the best path to that is negotiations between the state and tribes,” The Oklahoman quotes a tribal statement as saying.
“We just hope that Oklahoma City comes to see that and doesn’t try to force action on its permits. There’s time to do this right, and that’s what we’ll keep working toward,” the statement said.
Oklahoma City is not expected to need the additional water until 2020, but has already paid off the lake’s $27 million debt, begun paying lake maintenance costs and hired an engineer to design a pipeline to it, according to The Oklahoman.
Other players in the negotiations are the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps of Engineers will have the last word on whether or not the water can be transferred from the state to the city.
Oklahoma City’s permit request for Sardis water rights has not yet been considered by the water board, a process that must be completed before gaining federal approval, according to The Oklahoman.