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Oklahoma Water Board Seeking
Lawsuit With Texas Over Flow

By David Bowser

OKLAHOMA CITY The Sooner State is looking for water they feel the Lone Star State owes them.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board earlier this month recommended that Oklahoma pursue redress from Texas concerning what they claim is the Texas Panhandle's Palo Duro River Authority's failure to abide by the 1950 Canadian River Compact.

The Oklahoma water board wants Oklahoma's share of the water from Palo Duro Reservoir, says Lonnie Farmer, chairman of the water board.

The reservoir, built in 1991 on Palo Duro Creek in Hansford County, Texas, is a tributary of the Beaver River which flows through the Oklahoma Panhandle. The Palo Duro Reservoir lies about 12 miles upstream from the Texas-Oklahoma state line.

Palo Duro Creek flows north, out of Hansford County, Texas, into the Oklahoma Panhandle, where it flows into the Beaver River. Other tributaries flow into the Beaver to form the North Canadian River, which supplies water to Canton Reservoir, a component of Oklahoma City's water supply.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board on April 11 recommended that the State of Oklahoma file a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court to address what they say are long-standing compact violations.

Complaints concerning allocation of Palo Duro waters date to 1990, when Lewis Kamas, then Oklahoma Canadian River Compact Commissioner, lodged objections that Texas had failed to construct conduit gates to release sufficient flows of water to reach the Beaver River and the North Canadian River and Canton Reservoir downstream. Kamas' son, Les Kamas of Freedom, Okla., who succeeded his father on the commission, has maintained the claim.

Texas officials on the Canadian River Commission maintain there is no compact violation.

Oklahoma officials also claim the Palo Duro Reservoir is being used for recreation instead of strictly for municipal and domestic uses as set out in the Canadian River Compact which deals with water flowing across New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

Duane A. Smith, Oklahoma Water Resources Board executive director, says Oklahoma's challenge in the high court will be expensive. He estimates it will cost more than one million dollars in legal fees.

The Oklahoma state legislature is being asked for additional appropriations for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board for legal and background expenses.

"Our commission has negotiated in good faith and has steadfastly advanced Oklahoma's claim to its portion of the water," Smith says. "We have simply exhausted all other possible remedies, and the only avenue left for redress of these violations is for the State of Oklahoma to instigate legislation against the State of Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court."

Smith says Oklahoma is party to four such interstate stream compacts with neighboring states. The compacts delineate how much water a signatory state is allowed to develop or store on the interstate stream.

"Oklahoma City stands to lose a portion of its water supply as well," Smith says. "Oklahoma City holds a 1939 decreed right perfected by beneficial use of waters of the North Canadian River. Texas' Palo Duro construction does not secure and protect present developments in Oklahoma."

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board's resolution is being forwarded to Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Governor Frank Keating and the state legislature.

     



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