Our Goal: Aspiration to protect water resources in our state
From the desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle
It is important that this very serious information be shared with our Tribal members.
The Choctaw Nation has a deep-rooted history and heartfelt obligation to protect the nature’s resources and our environment. Water is vital to our lives and we have been blessed in Oklahoma with beautiful rivers and lakes that have supplied our families, towns, wildlife, environment and recreational activities.
Sustainable development for all of Oklahoma is incredibly important. Future generations are depending on all of us to protect the resources that are available today so that those resources will still be accessible in the future.
Leaders of the tribe and citizens of the area share a desire to see the results of an all-inclusive statewide water management study that will analyze important issues such as the quality and quantity of our regional water resources and the economic and environmental impacts of any changes in that supply. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) is working on a Comprehensive Water Plan that should have many of these results available next year. Good information leads to good decisions and we must have that data at hand before decisions about the future of our regional water should be made.
I spoke at the June OWRB meeting where, unfortunately, a vote was taken to approve the sale of the water storage rights of Sardis Lake to the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust. Their own State Comprehensive Water Plan won’t even be finished until next year.
I, along with several members of the Oklahoma State Senate and House of Representatives, and members of the Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy citizens group, spoke at the OWRB meeting, urging that they vote against the sale of the water storage rights from Sardis Lake. We wanted members to vote “no” because, in addition to this determination being premature, we believe the state does not have the legal authority to take such an action.
The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations had offered to make the necessary debt payment in connection with construction of the Sardis Reservoir that was due this summer in order to buy the time needed to get the Comprehensive Water Study finished. The OWRB did not respond to this offer.
On May 20, 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which constructed the reservoir and dam, notified the governor, legislative leaders and state water officials that the Corps has not been asked for approval of any transfer of storage rights. The Corps said such approval would be necessary by both the federal government and a U.S. District Court judge who ordered the state to repay the debt. In addition, the U.S. Department of the Interior wrote the ORWB and asked them to delay taking any action before consulting with the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and appropriate federal officials. But the board rejected the pleas in both letters.
What is the next step? We are evaluating all options, but the tribes are continuing to ask that the water transfer process wait for the appropriate studies to be completed, reviewed by experts and shared with all of Oklahoma’s citizens. Our water is precious and worth fighting for.