The United States Supreme Court decided unanimously to reject a Texas claim to water in southeastern Oklahoma tributaries.
The case, Tarrant Regional District v. Herrmann involved a Texas water district applying for a water permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. However the permit was denied, so the district sued saying they had a right to the water under the Red River Compact.
Supreme Court Justices unanimously held that the compact “creates no cross-border rights in Texas.”
While this may not have any immediate effects locally, Joe Taron of the Pottawatomie County Development Authority said the case will have long-reaching consequences.
“To me, this is a huge, huge decision from the Supreme Court,” Taron said.
The precedent this case sets for water resources boards is incredibly important, he said.
“The water resources board has a better idea of what their role is,” Taron said.
City Attorney Mary Ann Karns could not be reached for comment, regarding whether or not the case would change the city’s approach to dealing with encroachment into city utilities.
The Tarrant Regional Water District serving an 11-county area in north-central Texas, including Fort Worth and Arlington, wants to buy 150 billion gallons of water and said the four-state compact gives it the right to do so. Arkansas and Louisiana are the other participating states, and they sided with Oklahoma.
"Obviously, we are disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision. Securing additional water resources is essential to North Texas' continued growth and prosperity and will remain one of our top priorities," water district general manager Jim Oliver said.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor's opinion for the court made plain that the justices did not find this a close case. "We hold that Tarrant's claims lack merit," Sotomayor said.
Lower courts ruled for Oklahoma, including the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It found that the Red River Compact protects Oklahoma's water statutes from the legal challenge.
Legislation adopted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 said no out-of-state water permit can prevent Oklahoma from meeting its obligations under compacts with other states. It also requires the Water Resources Board to consider in-state water shortages or needs when considering applications for out-of-state water sales.
The Obama administration backed the Texas district at the Supreme Court, saying Oklahoma may not categorically prohibit Texas water users from obtaining water in Oklahoma. But the administration took no position on whether the Texans ultimately should get the water they are seeking in this case.
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The case is Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, 11-889.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.