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Justices wading into murky Red River Compact

Oklahoma Water Resources Board

Some Northeast Texans have their eyes on Washington, D.C., this week, as a case involving water rights has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Audio transcript

It’s Oklahoma versus the Tarrant Regional Water District, which serves Fort Worth and other Metroplex cities.

The dispute centers on whether the Tarrant district or another Texas entity can buy water from an entity inside the state of Oklahoma. Recent state laws in Oklahoma prohibit the sale of water to out-of-state groups.

But Texas attorneys say that violates the Red River Compact, the agreement governing shared water resources along Red River. It took 25 years to hammer out the agreement, which was signed in 1978. Arkansas and Louisiana are also part of the Red River Compact.

The agreement says that no state may take more than 25 percent of designated surplus water. The Tarrant Regional Water District wants to purchase water from the City of Hugo, and says that it should be able to do so, provided the amount bought doesn’t put Texas over its 25-percent cap. Oklahoma says that if Texas can’t get it’s 25 percent of the water without going into Oklahoma, that’s too bad, and the Red River Compact makes no provisions for an entity crossing state lines to get its share of the water.

Opening arguments in the case began yesterday, but court-watchers aren’t expecting a ruling until June. Water law is complicated, even for people used to legal verbiage. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that yesterday Justice Antonin Scalia told a lawyer “I don’t understand what you just said.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she “couldn’t make rhyme or reason” out of some part of a water deal and Justice Eleana Kagan told one attorney, “You read this brief that you submitted, and it gives you a kind of headache.” For KETR News, I’m Mark Haslett.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.