Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma House Passes Water Sale Bill

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma House Passes Water Sale Bill

Article excerpt

House members passed a measure Wednesday that would prohibit out- of-state sale or exportation of Oklahoma water without a vote of the people.

Rep. Mike Mass, D-Hartshorne, author of House Joint Resolution 1038, told Rep. Hopper Smith, R-Tulsa, that the proposal does not cover other natural resources, such as oil.

"So you don't think oil and water should mix on this bill," Smith quipped.

Answering a question from Rep. Richard Phillips, R-Warr Acres, Mass said that he believes such transfers would also still require approval of the Legislature. Mass told Rep. M.C. Leist, D- Morris, he thinks the same requirement would apply even with the existence of a compact with state Indian tribes.

The measure was prompted by a controversial plan to sell southeast Oklahoma water to an authority in Texas. In January, state negotiators terminated discussions with the North Texas Water Agency. They said that the authority offered only $174 million for a 99-year lease, when an independent appraisal put the present value of the lease at close to $339 million. The lease would have involved the state and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. The proposal drew vocal opposition from some environmental group and some property owners in southeast Oklahoma.

The bill would exempt sale or exportation of up to 8 million gallons per month by a private water owner. Two or more private owners could not export more than this without a vote of the people.

Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, R-Edmond, spoke for the measure.

"This is our most valuable resource, particularly for southeastern Oklahoma," he said.

Pettigrew said that portion of the state, with its abundant water, has a major advantage over the Dallas metropolitan area.

"Without it, we might as well ship our next congressman to Texas," he said.

Rep. Leonard Sullivan, R- OKC, said that Oklahomans sometimes jokingly call Texas "Baja Oklahoma. …

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