Oklahoma v. Texas Water Wars Continued

Posted on January 9, 2013 by Linda Martin

In my August 24, 2010 submission, I discussed the water wars between Oklahoma and Texas, summarizing the lower court holding in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herman, et al.  The gist of the dispute is that a Texas water district wants to buy Oklahoma water, but Oklahoma isn’t selling, and has passed laws that effectively preclude the sale. The Tarrant Regional Water District (“TRWD”) cried foul, but the District Court did not agree with TRWD that Oklahoma’s refusal to sell water across state lines was a violation of the Commerce Clause.  Judgment was entered on July 16, 2010, and the case appealed to the Tenth Circuit shortly thereafter.  The Tenth Circuit affirmed the District Court.  656 F.3d 1222 (10th Cir. 2011).

The Appellate Court decided that Oklahoma statutes which precluded water being sold to users in Texas did not violate the Commerce Clause because the Red River Compact preempted it. Recall that the Red River Compact (signed by Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas in 1978 and approved by Congress) divided the water from the Red River and its tributaries among the states involved.  The Compact has general language that gives the signatory states authority over the water allocated to them within their borders.  The Tenth Circuit held Texas to its bargain on the Compact and agreed with Oklahoma that the refusal to sell Oklahoma water to Texas users does not violate the Commerce Clause. 

Now, the United States Supreme Court will weigh in on the subject, as it granted certiorari on January 4, 2013.  Stay tuned.