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Proposed water compact with Texas is controversial

OKLAHOMA CITY? A proposed compact between the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations and the state of Oklahoma to provide water for the state of Texas is drawing criticism as Oklahomans fear their water is being "sold down the river" to Texas.

Protesters at a recent state water meeting asked why the tribes had the right to sell water protesters believe is owned by all Oklahomans.

The water needs of drought-stricken Texas have many Oklahoma residents worried about their own water supplies. Oklahomans voiced concern about the lack of water restrictions in Texas and some state legislators said "downstream dependency" could result in Oklahoma having to guarantee Texas water even if Oklahoma finds in the future it needs more water for its own residents.

Fears of not having enough water in Oklahoma are based on past court decisions in which states supplying water to other states had to continue supplying water because the recipient depends on it for the livelihood of its residents. With a history of drought and the changing needs for water in Oklahoma, fears water needed by Oklahomans may be sent on to Texas, have protesters adopting the slogan, "Don't Drain Us."

So far protests have been seen and not heard. The state of Oklahoma sees the compact as a way to settle litigation between Oklahoma and the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, allowing the three entities to sell surplus water in partnership.

The Chickasaw Nation sees the compact as a way to help tribal members. The Choctaw Nation sees a means to provide more money for health care and education for tribal members.

Others supporting the compact said they are pleased with the possibility of economic growth for the counties affected by the water sale.

Oklahoma has offered to use part of the money it receives for economic growth in the 22 affected counties. It has projected that more than 2,000 jobs will be created by construction of the pipeline to Texas and other service-related jobs.

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After hearing that Oklahoma tribes and the state would sell water to Texas, Margaret Ruff, director of the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation, said," The thirsty people are here in this state.

"We object to giving away water that belongs to the people of this state."

Duane Smith, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, disagreed. "Neither the state nor the tribes are giving anything away."

Gov. Frank Keating tried to assure Oklahomans they will have top priority in any water deals after Pittsburg County commissioners passed a resolution that opposes the compact.

"This water compact is based on the absolute principle that our first priority will be the citizens of southeast Oklahoma, and then the citizens of Oklahoma at large."

In the past both the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations said they are confident the proposed water sale to Texas will be a good thing for not only the tribes, but the citizens of Oklahoma as well because of the revenue from the sales as well as construction and maintenance of the pipeline.

As it sits, the compact would sell as much as 160 million gallons of surface water from six river basins in southeastern Oklahoma.

Choctaw Chief Greg Pyle defended the proposed sale, saying the water being sold is excess water and the money will improve both the health and education programs.