Oklahoma, Texas officials at impasse on water deal

Friday, January 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ State and tribal officials said Friday they have ended negotiations to sell Oklahoma water to Texas because the parties were too far apart on price.

For more than a year, state officials, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian tribes and members of the Northwest Texas Water Agency have been discussing the sale of 150 million gallons of water per day from river basins in southeastern Oklahoma.

``Despite our best efforts, we have reached an impasse and have elected to cease all deliberations with representatives of the NTWA,'' said Howard Barnett, Gov. Frank Keating's chief of staff.

The announcement came at a press conference that included Gregory E. Pyle, chief of the Choctaw Nation, and Bill Anaotubby, governor of the Chickasaw Nation.

Barnett said the parties were simply too far apart on price to continue negotiations. He said an independent appraisal of the water put its present value at $399 million, while Texas negotiators valued the water at $174 million.

``While both sides recognize the enormous real and intrinsic value of southeast Oklahoma's precious water supplies, north Texas officials stand firm on what they believe the water is worth in relation to the transfer restrictions and the protective measures that Oklahoma requires,'' Barnett said.

Both Pyle and Anaotubby said their tribes would not seek to negotiate with Texas officials without involvement of state officials.

Oklahoma officials had hoped to reach a deal with Texas that could be considered by the Oklahoma Legislature, which convenes Feb. 4.

They said it is possible that talks could be renewed at a later date, but said no deal will be reached this year.

``North Texas officials are adamant about Oklahoma providing reliable storage for them to draw upon, instead of having to rely upon available river flows,'' Barnett said. ``However, we oppose the assignment of storage in existing lakes or the construction of new reservoirs at this time to fulfill their needs.

``In conjunction with our demands for protective measures concerning drought and future water supply for Oklahomans, Texas' latest offer provides insufficient monetary compensation for the water based upon our estimates of their costs to secure other sources of supply.''

Making sure southeast Oklahoma residents continue to have sufficient water was always paramount to Oklahoma negotiators, officials said, stressing that talks focused on ``excess'' surface water that flows out of the state unused

``This water is our birthright and if we can't negotiate a water deal that ensures our future growth and prosperity, there will be no deal at all,'' Pyle said.

Keith Smith, spokesman for the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, applauded the end of negotiations.

``We opposed the water deal as it existed because it does not take into consideration the needs of the state of Oklahoma before it evaluates what is excess water,'' Smith said.

He said there is not really excess water when some southeast Oklahoma residents see their wells dry up during the summer.