Oklahoma's Sardis Lake Water Rights Stuck in Limbo
Carter, M Scott, THE JOURNAL RECORD
During the summer of 2010, the city of Oklahoma City's Water Utilities Trust voted to spend $27 million to purchase the water storage rights at southeastern Oklahoma's Sardis Lake reservoir.
Seven months later, they still have nothing to show for it.
Endorsing a contract negotiated by then-state Treasurer Scott Meacham and Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch, Oklahoma City officials agreed to purchase the water storage rights for future use.
Couch, speaking at a meeting of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, said Oklahoma City wouldn't need water from the Sardis reservoir for 20 years or more.
Echoing city officials, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board approved the contract, too.
Once the document was finalized, records from the Office of State Finance show the city sent the money to the state, and the state paid the money it owed the federal government for the 1974 construction of the reservoir.
But Oklahoma City still doesn't have water storage or the water rights permit to the Sardis Reservoir. And it doesn't look like the city will be getting those permits any time soon; because the Sardis contract includes a clause requiring approval by the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Interior, Oklahoma City's purchase of the reservoir's water rights remains in limbo.
In a July 13 letter to the OWRB, officials with the corps said the Army would not approve any contract for storage rights until the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust obtained a water rights permit for the amount of water under the contract.
A public hearing is required before that permit can be approved, but no hearing has been set.
In fact, even though state water officials discussed the contract with representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers as late as last week, OWRB Executive Director J.D. Strong said the permits remain in limbo.
"We brought up (the Sardis contract) just to make sure everyone is still on the same page," Strong said. "They're not moving forward on the Sardis contract because the water rights permit has to be issued first; that's the corps' process. They're sitting on it until we've done the water rights issuance and the water rights permitting process."
Oklahoma City officials, Strong said, haven't pressed the issue.
"Oklahoma City was willing to not really press the issue to give Governor Henry and the tribes the opportunity to discuss (the contract) and see if there was some compromise or solution," Strong said. …