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Supreme Court Weighing Tarrant Water District Lawsuit

Meredith Farmer

Supreme Court Justices today will decide whether to hear a case that could affect the water supply in North Texas. KERA’s Shelley Kofler says a decision on importing Oklahoma water has implications for states across the country.

This Red River Rivalry has nothing to do with the annual football competition between Texas and OU, though it too is a fierce fight among parties that straddle that ribbon of water.

Faced with growing water needs the Tarrant Regional Water District filed a lawsuit nearly five years ago seeking to import water from Oklahoma. The State of Oklahoma claimed its laws prohibit selling or transferring the water across state lines.

Last September a federal court in Denver ruled in favor of Oklahoma, but the Tarrant Regional Water District decided to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Chicago Attorney Timothy Bishop is representing the water district in the case. Bishop says the district is asking the Justices to decide that Oklahoma isn’t fulfilling a multi-state agreement known as the Red River Compact.

Bishop: The Red River Compact is quite clear in giving to Texas a 25 percent share of the water in the Red River. And since Texas can’t access that share in Texas itself we are entitled to go into Oklahoma to obtain that water.

Bishop and the water district maintain the commerce clause of the constitution prohibits Oklahoma from adopting state laws that prevent the transfer of water to other states.

Bishop says nearly all water supplies are controlled by interstate agreements and if the Supreme Court hears this case the ripple effects will travel well beyond the Red River.

Bishop: If this sort of ruling were allowed to stand it would encourage upstream states throughout the country to impose these sorts of draconian laws that try to cut back on their obligations that they’ve reached under compacts. That incentive is only going to increase as water becomes more scarce.

The Supreme Court will decide Friday whether to hear the Tarrant Regional Water District’s lawsuit, but Justices won’t announce their decision until Monday.