Revisiting the Water Settlement for Sardis Lake
Chief Gary Batton

It has been about a year since we completed the water settlement agreement, and there may be some confusion in regards to the terms of the agreement between the Choctaw Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the State of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City.

This message is to hopefully clarify the terms for anyone who has not had an opportunity to carefully review the provisions of this historical agreement.

Neither the Choctaw Nation, nor the Chickasaw Nation received any money from the settlement. The lawsuit which produced the settlement was simply about water protection and land stewardship.

Everyone will recall from previous litigation that there was a strong need for the tribes to protect the water from overuse or improper use, as well as securing water for our local communities.

The settlement was extremely successful. Under this agreement, we were able to secure 37,908 acre feet of Sardis lake storage to be reserved for local use, which is more than 12,352,375,954 gallons of water.

With respect to the Kiamichi River, neither Oklahoma City, nor any other person or entity can divert water from this very important resource without leaving a flow of at least 50 cubic feet per second during diversions.

This will protect fish and wildlife while also ensuring enough water is available for downstream users, including the City of Antlers and local citizens. None of these safeguards were present before this settlement agreement.

There is a broad misconception that the State of Oklahoma or Oklahoma City is now able to drain the lake by simply filing an application for a water permit with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

This is not true. There is a lake-level management plan in place. Prior to the settlement, the State/Oklahoma City had the water rights to Sardis Lake.

If you review the settlement agreement carefully, we now have a regulatory framework which protects lake levels, wildlife and recreation.

While anyone, including Oklahoma City, may file for, or even be granted a permit, they must now adhere to these rules and regulations which were not in place prior to the settlement agreement.

We will enforce these provisions, regardless of whether a permit is granted or not.

Prior to this settlement agreement, anyone wanting to protect their interests in water, including the tribes, were forced to litigate against the state or other entities in state court.

In fact, the original lawsuit, which prompted us to act, was filed in state court.

Due to our efforts with congress, the regulatory provisions secured by this settlement agreement are now enforceable in federal court. Not only does this protect our tribal sovereignty, it also provides a fair playing field for any future disagreements.

Finally, while all of these protections are incredible advances for our tribal members, local citizens, and communities located within the Choctaw Nation, it is always best to read the facts for yourself instead of relying on false rumors or inaccurate interpretations.

I would encourage everyone to view the terms of the settlement agreement at waterunityok.com.

sardis

by Krislan Turner

The State of Oklahoma, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, City of Oklahoma City Water Settlement puts protections in place for Sardis Lake, pictured above, and the Kiamichi River in Southeastern Oklahoma. The agreement protects the water from improper use, overuse and secures water for local communities. It also protects fish and wildlife and ensures good land stewardship.