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Tarrant Water District Loses Court Battle But Not Giving Up On Oklahoma Water

Shelley Kofler

After more than six years in court that cost more than $6 million the Tarrant Regional Water District’s legal battle with the State of Oklahoma has ended.

 In an opinion issued Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court justices unanimously said a four-state water sharing agreement known as the Red River Compact does not give the water district in Fort Worth the right to cross into Oklahoma to claim Texas’ share.

Tarrant argued it can’t draw its 25 percent in the Red River basin from Texas’ side of the border.  But an Oklahoma state law says its legislators must approve out-of-state water transfers and the justices ruled the Red River Compact does not take precedence over Oklahoma law.

Still, Tarrant water board member Jim Lane believes there may be another path to importing the water growing North Texas needs.   

“We’ve talked with Oklahoma in anticipation of an adverse ruling and we’ll try to continue to purchase water from Oklahoma, not through a compact obviously but any other way we can,” Lane said.

But Oklahoma Sen. Jerry Ellis says it may be a little late for talking.  He says there are some hard feelings since Texas took his state to court.

“They should have tried to sit down and negotiate before they filed litigation.  I don’t think there are many people up here willing to sit down at the table with them right now,” said Ellis.

Tarrant has said the Oklahoma water deal would have doubled its current capacity, and kept taps across North Texas flowing through the century.

As it stands, Lane says North Texas will have to look harder at another controversial option –reservoirs. 

At least three East Texas reservoirs are included in the DFW region’s long-term plans.

Environmentalists, landowners and businesses who would lose property to the projects are already fighting their development.

Janice Bezanson of the Texas Conservation Alliance says her organization will be arguing for more recycling and conservation instead.

“Recycling and conservation together they can postpone decisions about something like a reservoir, particularly big ones like Marvin Nichols which is a huge project,” Bezanson said.  

“We’re talking about $3.5 billion dollars and massive amounts of environmental damage.  And if we do it right we won’t ever have to build that,” she added.

The Tarrant water district’s general manager is also suggesting he hasn’t given up on Oklahoma water.  In a statement Jim Oliver said he believes solutions still exist that would benefit Texas and its neighbor to the north.

Oklahoma’s Sen. Ellis says Tarrant will have to do a lot of sweet talking to convince his state that’s true.

“They came at it the wrong way as far as I’m concerned.  They need to be candid, and open and honest when they come,” said Ellis.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.