ADA – Any realistic hope Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin had leaders of two southeastern Oklahoma Indian tribes would acquiesce to her request to drop a lawsuit over water rights were dashed Monday evening.
The leaders – Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Chief Gregory Pyle -- pledged to continue negotiations and mediation of a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma, but stopped short of agreeing to drop the lawsuit filed in August 2011.
“We were pleased to see Governor Fallin mention her desire to protect the rights of all Oklahomans and not favor one group over another. We view that statement as an opportunity to continue the dialogue now under way. We too want to protect the rights of all Oklahomans, and that includes the citizens —Indian and non-Indian — of southeast Oklahoma. We continue to hope the tribes and the governor can work together to resolve our differences and we will do our part.”
In a letter, Fallin urged the leaders to drop the lawsuit last week while continuing to mediate the dispute with noted Duke University law professor Francis McGovern.
In court proceedings before the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Oklahoma, both tribes are seeking an injunction against the state, Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.
The tribes wish to halt any planned transfer of water out of Sardis Lake, located in extreme southeastern Oklahoma. The suit also includes the Atoka Pipeline. Water is pumped out of Lake Atoka and transferred to Lake Stanley Draper via the pipeline. The tribes have said they will honor any existing water permits from the pipeline, but are not yielding in the fight over Sardis Lake water.
The tribal leaders released a statement late Monday evening. In responding, Anoatubby and Pyle wrote they are “pleased to hear Governor Fallin shares our goal of meeting the water needs of every Oklahoman and not just those of a few. For decades, we have made it known we want to work together with the state of Oklahoma to help advance a sustainable water management plan which benefits Oklahomans across the entire state.
“We only filed legal action to protect water resources in southeastern Oklahoma after our repeated requests to establish government-to-government negotiations with (Oklahoma) to resolve water resource issues were met with silence,” the tribal leaders said.
“We structured our suit carefully to prevent one-sided action by (Oklahoma), yet still provide a forum for negotiation. We also painstakingly composed our suit and subsequent amendments to preserve the rights of the hundreds of individual users who are using the water under current permit. The Chickasaw and Choctaw nations are currently working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others, to develop a water plan which better protects the environment and water-based recreation, which is essential to tourism, our state’s third largest industry,” Anoatubby and Pyle said in the response to Fallin.