Sardis Plan Subject of Special Meeting by Oklahoma Water Resources Board

Article excerpt

Just four days after Oklahoma City's Water Utilities Trust approved a $43 million contract for the purchase of water storage rights for the Sardis Reservoir, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board is expected to have a special meeting Friday to review and vote on that same contract - despite a competing offer by two Native American tribes to help pay some of the debt.

Posted as a special meeting, the OWRB's agenda lists an executive session "for the purpose of discussing the pending litigation styled United States v. State of Oklahoma and OWRB, CV-98-00521, relating to the payment for construction of Sardis Reservoir."

That meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday at the OWRB's office in Oklahoma City.

Since November, state officials, the OWRB and representatives from the city of Oklahoma City have negotiated the sale of water storage rights in the Sardis Reservoir. Officials say the sale of those water storage rights - covering more than 6 billion gallons - would eliminate the $22 million construction debt owed by the state.

Those negotiations followed a federal court order, issued last September, that forces the state to pay $5.2 million per month - beginning July 1 - to the Army Corps of Engineers for the lake.

However, while the OWRB considers the contract, two of the state's largest Native American tribes, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw nations, have offered to make the first $5.2 million debt payment in an effort to give the state more time to resolve a dispute over the potential use of the lake's water.

"Because this matter has major implications for residents of southeastern Oklahoma, tribes and the entire state, we think it is very important to take the necessary time to consider every available option and not take a rushed or reckless path," Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement e-mailed to The Journal Record.

Choctaw Chief Greg Pyle said the tribes made the offer so a long- range solution can be reached "after comprehensive water and environmental studies have been completed, evaluated by experts and reviewed by the public."

"It is wholly premature for the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust and the state to be engaged in these kinds of negotiations when no one has all the necessary information to make the right long- term decisions," Pyle said. …