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North Texas Awaits Supreme Court's Water Decision

Shelley Kofler

Water districts throughout North Texas are awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could be announced as early as this morning.

  At issue is whether the Tarrant Regional Water District based in Fort Worth can go into Oklahoma to pump water available to Texas under the Red River Compact.

The agreement says that when the water in the Red River and its tributaries exceeds a certain level, each of four states- Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana- is entitled to one fourth of the surplus.

In April, the Tarrant district told Supreme Court justices Texas can’t get its fair share without pumping it from the Oklahoma side of the border. 

“The reality is we can get at the most 17% of our water out of Texas,” said Jim Oliver, the Tarrant district’s general manager.

He said Tarrant can only access the water from Texas through “little, tiny tributaries scattered along the border.”

Oklahoma claimed that’s not true, and said Tarrant just doesn’t want to pay to remove the salty minerals that mix with the water once it hits the main stem of the Red River.

Following oral arguments, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said justices seemed sympathetic to his state’s position.

“The court seemed to be very bothered by the fact that there was not an explicit statement in the compact that allowed cross border access,” Pruitt said.

Oliver says the outcome of this decision is “huge” for the Tarrant district and partners that would share the Oklahoma water including Dallas Water Utilities and the North Texas Municipal Water District.

“It would satisfy the metroplex water needs at least through this century,” he said. 

Oliver says the Oklahoma supply would equal all of the reservoirs and sources Tarrant currently uses to supply its 1.8 million customers, and because the water would flow downhill into Texas it would be cheaper to pump than most other sources.

The Supreme Court will announce its decision in this case during June.  It could be among opinions announced today or Thursday around 10 a.m.