State, tribal leaders reach historic agreement over water rights

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OKLAHOMA - It’s a fight that’s gone on for more than a century, a saga extending back to treaties and pacts signed in the 1800’s.

The dispute flared up five years ago when Oklahoma City wanted to take more water from tribal territories in the southeast part of the state.

The tribes filed a lawsuit, and the state filed a counter suit.

But, Thursday, after five years of mediation, a compromise was announced between the state and the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations.

“This is a day in history that we can remember. This is an historic agreement,” said Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, Bill Anoatubby.

The controversy stems over Sardis Lake in southeast Oklahoma.

It’s in Chickasaw and Choctaw Nation territories, but Oklahoma City wants to take water from it.

Under the agreement reached, the city will be able to do so.

“We’re making a major investment to get the water we need in central Oklahoma, not for today but for the future,” said Oklahoma City city manager, Jim Couch.

There are also provisions to protect the level of Sardis Lake and the tribes can have input on water permits granted for the area.

“Protections, such as a good lake level management plan for Sardis, so that the lake cannot be drained. We want to make sure that is protected,” said Gary Gatton, Chief of the Choctaw Nation.

It will be about 15 years before Oklahoma City starts taking that water.

The infrastructure has to be put in place first.

“We have to parallel the pipeline from Lake Atoka up to Lake Draper. It’s about a $600 million dollar project,” Couch said.

And, the leaders said they’re looking to the future, also putting measures in place in case the legislature ever okay’s the sale of water to out of state interests.

The plan still has to be enacted by congress and signed by the president before it can go into effect.

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