Supreme Court stays out of Okla. water fight

The Supreme Court today declined to take up a dispute between six water districts and the state of Oklahoma.

The water districts had challenged whether they should have to pay the state to use water drawn from the Grand River. The failure of the court to intervene means that the legal battle the water districts have fought since 2007 is now over.

Although the state Grand River Dam Authority, formed in 1935, claims title over the river, the water districts argued that they take water from a section of the river that the U.S. government has jurisdiction over because it owns and operates the Fort Gibson Dam.

The Court of Civil Appeals in Oklahoma ruled that the water within the reservoir behind the federally owned dam was owned by the state.

The water districts' attorney, Steven Harris of Doyle Harris Davis & Haughey in Tulsa, Okla., argued in his brief that the state court had failed to follow Supreme Court precedent in finding that the state owned the water.

The state court ruling constitutes "a springboard for Oklahoma to exercise a state ownership right over water resources" that the Supreme Court has previously rejected, Harris wrote.

In response, the state's lawyer, James Reed of Tulsa-based Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable, Golden & Nelson, said the issue had been correctly decided by the state courts and that there was no federal question for the Supreme Court to answer.

It is settled state law that the dam authority "is expressly authorized to sell water from the Grand River," he wrote. "This right fits squarely within Oklahoma's broader right to regulate, control and appropriate water rights within its non-navigable waterways for the public benefit."

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