The Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, State of Oklahoma and the City of Oklahoma City announced Thursday they have reached a water rights settlement, which will be presented to Congress for final approval.
When finalized, the settlement will resolve long-standing questions over water rights ownership and regulatory authority over the waters of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations’ historic treaty territories, an area that spans approximately 22 counties in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma. The agreement provides a framework that fosters intergovernmental collaboration on significant water resource concerns within the Settlement Area, while at the same time protecting existing water rights and a affirming the State’s role in water rights permitting and administration. Additionally, the agreement will implement a robust system of lake level release restrictions to allow Oklahoma City’s measured use of Sardis Lake for municipal supply purposes while continuing to support regionally critical recreation, sh and wildlife uses.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt commented, “Water is a shared resource, so finding a way to work together was vitally important. I commend the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and City of Oklahoma City for working purposefully and tirelessly with the State over the past five years to reach an equitable agreement. The State retains its permitting authority over water in the Settlement Area, which is important since uniform permitting and administration provide certainty and consistency for the management and use of water resources. When finalized, the agreement will protect existing rights and provide certainty for future uses in southeastern Oklahoma and other areas of the state.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations will participate in technical evaluations of significant future water right allocation proposals within the Settlement Area. The agreement also formalizes protections for the current and future water needs of communities throughout the region, ensuring adequate water for south-central and southeastern Oklahoma and enhancing stewardship of water resources both for future consumptive use within the region as well as protecting lake levels and stream flows on which the vibrant tourism industry relies.
“This agreement is a win for all Oklahomans,” said Gov. Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation. “We have forged this deal based on our common interests with an understanding that we all want the same thing – to take care of our vital water resources responsibly with respect to the needs of all Chickasaws, Choctaws and Oklahomans. The Nations now have a meaningful and active voice in significant water transfers from our area. Furthermore, this settlement preserves and protects water resources essential to economic growth and quality of life in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma. Unity and cooperation among all stakeholders offers our best chance to help ensure a strong economy and thriving natural environment for our children and grandchildren through proper stewardship of our shared water resources.”