By Gene Lehmann
ADA — Chickasaw and Choctaw nation leaders expressed disappointment late Friday Oklahoma has decided to move forward with stream adjudication over southeastern Oklahoma water rights.
Oklahoma Attorney General on Friday petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide the issue.
Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Principal Chief Gregory Pyle issued a joint statement. “While we have taken every reasonable action to reassure the state that it is neither necessary nor productive to file legal action against Oklahoma citizens, they have made the choice to do so. We have made plain in writing that we want to protect the existing permitted uses of water for all Oklahomans and have hopes of reaching a resolution outside of the courtroom. Nevertheless, it continues to pursue legal action which will not resolve the federal issues at the heart of this dispute.”
Both leaders have warned if the state moved forward with lawsuits, it would potentially pit neighbors against neighbors, communities against communities and Oklahomans against Oklahomans. The state lawsuit — undertaken Friday afternoon by the state attorney general’s office — asks the Oklahoma Supreme Court to take sole jurisdiction of water disputes in traditional tribal territories. Both Anoatubby and Pyle have argued the state courts have no standing in the disputes since treaties were inked with federal government, not the state.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said “in a general stream adjudication, a court decides the water rights in a particular stream system. The court will determine priority, place of use, purpose of use and amount of right, all relative to each other. It is not a suit by the state to take away water rights. It is a process through which all legally-recognized water rights will be confirmed.”
The move seeks to establish who ultimately controls water in southeastern Oklahoma. Surface and stream water in the Kiamichi, Muddy Boggy and Clear Boggy watersheds are at the heart of the dispute.
The tribes have not made ownership of water the central element of its lawsuit against Oklahoma, Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. Tribal officials have consistently said — despite its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma — they are seeking a “seat at the table” in determining the future of water in the 22-county tribal territories and an open dialogue with the state concerning water storage and transfers out of the territory.
By Gene Lehmann
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