In her recent State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin lamented Oklahoma's looming federal court battle with the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations over water rights.
"We continue to hope this issue can be settled through mediation, without huge legal fees, and with all parties negotiating in good faith," she said.
"In the event, however, that the tribes do not share that goal, we intend to defend the water rights of all Oklahomans against a claim that favors one group over the interests of the entire state and all its citizens."
Routine carrot-and-stick rhetoric? Hardly. It was a classic political two-step.
Fallin wasn't defending the water rights of all Oklahomans. She and many elected state Republican leaders are -- pardon the pun -- carrying water for deep-pocketed Oklahoma City-based special interests, the kind that bankroll political careers.
This whole dust-up with the tribes is a result of Oklahoma City's thirst for control over southeastern Oklahoma's Sardis Lake.
The capital's big money interests and developers know that a sufficient water supply is key to ensuring central Oklahoma's growth -- and their profits from it.
It all but ignores the needs of southeastern Oklahoma, where the two tribes are headquartered and are now financial powerhouses in their own rights.
So, of course, the taxpayers will end up footing the state's portion of this mounting legal tab that could have been avoided if Oklahoma's approach to water management didn't more closely resemble a Three Stooges routine.
State leaders for years focused primarily on striking a deal to sell surplus water to North Texas -- the equivalent of the state treasury winning the biggest Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots every year, forever and ever, amen.
One question cooled the windfall fever: When considering its long-term needs and roller-coaster weather, does Oklahoma really have surplus water to sell?
State leaders did the smart thing, ordering up a comprehensive statewide water plan that was designed to give policy-makers the information necessary to determine what's in the state's best long-term interests.
Unfortunately, the $16 million analysis was a dud, victimized by back-room special interest gamesmanship that overrode science and common purpose.
No one at the Capitol wants to admit that, of course. It's especially difficult in these lean budget times to explain how a multi-million-dollar investment could produce the equivalent of a dry hole. Hence, House Speaker Kris Steele's praise of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board's "thorough job" in producing the statewide water blueprint.
To their credit, Steele and state lawmakers are taking some steps that could transform chicken litter into chicken salad.
It will take several years to develop the strategy, but Steele hopes a conservation and management plan can keep Oklahoma's fresh water consumption at current levels over the next half century.
If the state does nothing, he said, water use is expected to jump 33 percent in the 50-year period.
Lawmakers also appear intent of getting to the bottom of a question that should have been answered by the statewide water plan: How much useable water does Oklahoma have?
First, the state is woefully behind in monitoring its 87 groundwater basins, leading to "a shortage of accurate data to inform water management decisions," according to one recent House news release.
Second, Oklahoma hasn't systematically considered possible uses for brackish (high-salt content) water or so-called "gray" water -- described as water left over from routine activities like laundry, dishwashing and bathing that possibly could be used for watering flowerbeds or lawns.
The most daunting challenge for lawmakers? How to finance an estimated $82 billion in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 50 years.
Before you waste much energy feeling sorry for your elected policymakers, know this: It's a conundrum of their own making.
Republicans wrested control of state government away from Democrats by running against government -- vowing strict allegiance to Grover Norquist's goal of shrinking government to the size where the rest can be drowned in a bathtub.
It's not easy to ask the taxpayers to pony up more when you've spent the last three decades demagogically ranting against government overspending and waste.
Rep. Phil Richardson, R-Minco, conceded as much when he outlined proposed legislation that would establish 13 regional water planning groups as part of the overall strategy of effectively managing Oklahoma's water resources.
The knock on the proposed planning groups, he said, is that it's "growing government." You could almost see legislative Republicans shudder collectively. Richardson insists these groups won't cost taxpayers a dime, though there will be cost to assembling information the groups compile.
By late May, it will be clear whether legislative leaders are merely putting earrings on a pig or making substantial progress toward effectively managing the state's most critical resource.
Thanks to competing well-heeled special interests, it would have been a daunting task even if the comprehensive water plan had been all it could have been.
It's even more difficult now with all the state and federal court challenges -- not only involving the Chickasaws and Choctaws, but also North Texas interests.
As Steele put it, "We will not be deterred by litigation and will work aggressively this session to lay a foundation for Oklahoma's water future.
"As the elected officials of all Oklahomans, it is our duty to ensure each and every Oklahoman has the water they need."
Fallin, Steele and Co. need to remember that all means all. Not just their deep-pocketed benefactors in Oklahoma City. Not just the tribes. But all Oklahomans, whether in Boise City or Idabel, Miami or Hollis, Blackwell or Thackerville.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
Share this article:
Despite that the article is Sensationalism.
And distracts people from whats going on behind the curtain so to speak.
The problem with the various treaties is that they are archaic, and presumptive. And some of the treaties are not actual treaties at all, but an assumption that an agreement is in fact a treaty, or even legally binding.
What the lawsuit is about, isn't water right Per Se, but exportation of water to Texas for state revenue, and not all the tribes disagree with this. (mine does not.)
I personally disagree with exporting water to Texas.... if... water is needed here,.... if..... it is not surplus......if....the benefits of said exportation do not benefit all that it would potentially deprive equally....
Another problem with treaties is that alot of them became essentially unenforceable or irrelevant when alot of tribes gave up there sovereignty by choosing to become "domestic dependent nations." essentially becoming more of a state of the US, than an independent nation.
there is also the problem with the treaties where they required all, or almost all, in some cases down to 2/3rds the males in the tribe I'll refer to as "shareholder"parties to agree to them, and for which most did not, and blatantly refused, for which was their right to do so, but also gives the treaties nothing more than a presumptive hold at best., so in fact the treaties were tentative. This in turn only created a treaty between the agreeing parties who put their signatures down,( at best,) and not of the nations or tribes. oops! Then there are the opposing/conflicting treaties that the other shareholders entered into, where they seeded rights to the US for compensations. 48 USC § 1451
Yep, tribes, and tribe members were trying to screw each other over in attempts for power grabs that they were unable to pull off prior to the treaties. so in reality, everyone was screwing everyone over. greed, vanity, and ignorance is a monster of a thing.
Then on top of that, only the senate had the authority to make the treaties, a well known fact, but some tribes sought to make treaties without respect to the senate, that they speculated would be legal and binding anyways. oops again!
Many tribes almost immediately invalidated treaties,(sometimes within hours of its creation.) giving the government the ability to repeal the treaties, saying oops! or saying, well, not every single member of the tribe violated it! this would be like the US starting a war, and saying afterwards, hey, not every member of government agreed, so you shouldn't take action. in reality, that just isn't going to happen.
though the tribes saw this as a violation of the treaty, not taking into account that they violated 25 USC § 72, giving the government the ability to take advantage of this, and so repealed treaties.
Many tribes think that the wording of 25 USC § 71, means that the treaties are unnegateable for any reason, and are legal and binding in only one direction, all the while not taking into consideration of the rest of USC, or even such wording within the treaty itself that directly allow for the negation of the treaty. This all gives the federal government the ability to pick and choose as they see fit. 48 USC § 1501, 48 USC § 1452, 48 USC § 1489,25 USC § 72.
Then there is the assumptions that come from confusing treaties with speculative agreements. need I say oops?
And I strongly disagree with Keri.
Even though there are the treaties, the treaties have no power over the U.S. Constitutions authority, which is thee supreme authority, (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 3). This clause which clearly says "Congress has the ultimate right to pass legislation governing Native Americans, even when that legislation conflicts with or abrogates Indian treaties." DOH!
Yea, I know, it sucks. its a buyer beware kind of thing. Not everyone wins in everything. there are losers to all things. since the beginning, tribes of people been screwing other tribes over, governments screwing others over, etc...
I kinda felt the same way when my mortgage that I inherited turned upside down, and the giant balloon payment at the end, it no longer worked for me so i wanted to dump it. lol.
Speaking of which, as it turns out, the promises in mortgage's only work as long as your keeping up with your end of the deal. break the deal, miss a payment, falsify info, misrepresent, etc...well, too bad, they will pull your house out from under you. And nobody cares if the other signer to the mortgage doesn't pay their half of it, the broker only agreed to the terms of the contract, not your private arrangements with the co-signer!
Its sad, but the real problem isn't the treaties, its the tribes trying to screw each other over! And there lie a paradox. how does a tribe maintain its sovereignty when battling itself? As members of a tribe constantly turn to the federal government for help, and in doing so, proving they are dependent, thereby negating there sovereignty.
Id also be careful when saying the government cant do something, "making it off-limits and non-negotiable. Period." if history proves anything, every time its assumed that a government cant, they ended up losing more land and or rights.
The truth is, the Native American Nations have failed and fallen. And like always, is waiting too long, failing to fully adapt before its too late. Being killed off by the internal strive. In time, it'll all be just a faded memory as is alot already. Something for the great great grand-children to look up on some information database somewhere.
Squabbling over exportation of water to Texas is the least of the worries for Native Americans, and makes me wonder why the ancestors immigrated from Asia to the Americas in the first place. There is no other place for native Americans to immigrate to, leaving Asia and settling in America was the last stop for Native Americans.
So, unless Native Americans unite, grow strong, and build the Nations back up, then all is lost. Native Americans will eventually become extinct.
Whining about treaties and and water rights etc, while not actually jumping on the last chance to unite and strengthen the people and the nations... Well, it'll be recorded in history. right along with the dinosaurs, cavemen, and the dodo bird.
||Report this comment
Excellent article, though, for me (a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma), the larger issue is lawmakers' ignorance of (or refusal to abide by) treaties signed between the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and federal governments, including the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Our removal and several terms of that same treaty make my skin crawl, but it also safe-guards water (including Sardis) on OUR land, making it off-limits and non-negotiable. Period.
||Report this comment