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Cole Supports Passage of S. 612 and Oklahoma Water Rights Settlement

December 8, 2016
Press Release
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) released the following statement after the passage of S. 612, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which was passed by a vote of 360-61. This legislation would authorize appropriations for numerous water infrastructure projects, natural resources projects, settlements, and much more. Included as well is the Oklahoma Water Rights Settlement between the city of Oklahoma City, the state of Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation.
“This bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that will improve the well-being for millions of Americans through valuable water projects,” said Cole. “It will address the on-going water issues in Flint, Michigan, provide federal funds for numerous water infrastructure projects and consummate many water settlements for Native American tribes across the United States. For Oklahomans, it will finalize the water settlement between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and Oklahoma City."
The Oklahoma Water Rights Settlement has been litigated for over five years, and upon passage of S. 612, the settlement is made final. The areas of contention are the Sardis Lake and Kiamichi watershed in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma. The conflict has grown over the water rights ownership and regulatory authority between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations’ territories, and the city of Oklahoma City. In 2011, the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations filed a lawsuit against the city of Oklahoma City for withdrawing water from Sardis Lake.
“This has been an on-going conflict that not only affects the parties involved, but everyone in these areas as well,” said Cole. “This is important to many people. But we must realize that Tribal Sovereignty, the right to govern and the defining of those rights must be honored for the Chickasaws and the Choctaws. This settlement allows them to retain that distinction, protects the interests of the people living in those areas and provides security for Oklahoma City’s water needs.
“I’d like to give Senator Inhofe credit for recognizing the delicate nature of this conflict and bringing this measure to the comprehensive Water Infrastructure Improvements Act. And further, I’d like to thank Chairman Bill Shuster and Chairman Rob Bishop for working with us to make sure this provision was included in the final version of the bill, and that it will receive federal approval by Congress,” continued Cole.
“I deeply appreciate everyone who represented the stakeholders in this process, and applaud them for coming to this important agreement in an expeditious and cooperative manner. It is unusual for Indian Water Settlements to finalize in a short amount of time, and at a lower cost. This settlement will relieve all parties of the legal burdens it has brought, and benefit everyone interested in this matter. Surely, this will serve as a model for water settlements in the future,” concluded Cole.
Of importance, the Oklahoma Water Settlement will also:
  • Provide a limit on the amount of water Oklahoma City may export from Sardis Lake each year
  • Create a $10 million fund to support recreational use, fish and wildlife habitat and environmental protections at Sardis and Atoka Lake
For more information on the water settlement, please click here.