KGOU

Sardis Lake

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A group of property owners is suing over Oklahoma City’s agreement to siphon water from the Southeastern part of the state. They claim federal, tribal and state governments failed to consider two endangered freshwater mussels: the Ouachita rock pocketbook and the scaleshell.

Jerry Gutierrez steers his golf cart on a tour of his ranch near the Kiamichi River in southeastern Oklahoma. Gutierrez and other nearby residents urged the state not to approve Oklahoma City's permit to tap water from river.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma City’s decades-long quest for a permit to pump water out of southeastern Oklahoma is over. This week, state regulators approved a key part of the city’s $1 billion-plus project to meet the metro’s long-term water needs, but residents and water rights groups say the urban victory marks a milestone — not the end of the road.

Oklahoma City has water storage rights at Sardis Lake in southeastern Oklahoma. To get it, the city plans to divert water that flows from the lake into the Kiamichi River and pump it more than a hundred miles northwest to the metro.

A sign along Oklahoma Highway 43 near Sardis Lake.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

President Barack Obama on Friday signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which passed the U.S. Senate in the wee hours Saturday morning. The $10 billion federal bill directs money to Oklahoma to help fix and address multiple water-related problems and issues across the state.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., left, talks with the committee's ranking member Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 16, 2015.
Evan Vucci / AP

Oklahoma officials and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations spent 5 years hammering out a deal to share control of water across southeast Oklahoma, but coming to an agreement isn’t the end of the process. A fickle U.S. Congress still has to give its approval.

Members of the Choctaw Nation gather at the Hugo Community Center to hear details on the new water deal from attorney Michael Burrage.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

After five years of confidential negotiations, the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations have reached an agreement with the State of Oklahoma over water in southeast Oklahoma. The deal has been praised by state leaders as a historic accord that ends the tribes’ lawsuit that blocked Oklahoma City’s plan to pump water out of the region.

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby at a news conference announcing the water deal.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

After five years of court proceedings and confidential negotiations, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations have reached an agreement with the state over control of water in southeast Oklahoma.

Chief of Choctaw Nation Gary Batton, from left, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and the Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby listen to a speaker during a press conference at the Oklahoma Heritage Center in Oklahoma City on Thursday.
Alonzo Adams / AP

After five years of court proceedings and confidential negotiations, two Native American tribes have reached an agreement with the state over control of water in southeast Oklahoma.

Fight Over Sardis Lake Entangled In History, Indian Culture And Sacred Water

Apr 7, 2016
Grave sites at the Sardis Cemetery go back well into the 19th century and many of them are homemade.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The fight over control of Sardis Lake and water across southeastern Oklahoma pits the state against Native American tribes. To the Choctaw and Chickasaw who live in the area today — and for the Caddo who preceded them — water isn’t just vital to life: It’s culturally sacred.

 

Oklahoma’s lakes drive millions of dollars of tourism to otherwise impoverished parts of the state. But the local economy around Sardis Lake is missing out because of uncertainty about the water’s future.
Allison Herrera / Invisible Nations

Oklahoma’s lakes drive millions of dollars of tourism to otherwise impoverished parts of the state. But the local economy around Sardis Lake is missing out because of uncertainty about the water’s future.

‘DID YOU SEE ANYBODY?’

Pat Starbuck outside the Choctaw Nation Community Center in Talihina.
Allison Herrera / Invisible Nations

Sardis Lake, in southeastern Oklahoma, is at the heart of a battle between state and tribal governments over control of water. Debate has raged over whether to pipe to north Texas, Oklahoma City, or western Oklahoma ever since it was built in the early 1980s. Stuck in the middle are the people who call the Sardis area home.

Several miles down the rugged, potholed Savage Road, just past the western edge of Lake Sardis is a neighborhood in the middle of nowhere.

A sign along Oklahoma Highway 43 near Sardis Lake.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Moving water from where it’s plentiful to where it’s needed seems like a logical way to meet all Oklahomans’ future water needs. But water transfers are complicated, and not just because they’re expensive  but because communities with lots of water want to keep it. Nothing illustrates this tension better than Sardis Lake.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Oklahoma City decided to build a pipeline that would eventually carry water from Sardis Lake, in southeast Oklahoma, to the city, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations filed suit in federal court saying pretty much all of the water in that part of the state belongs to them.

That was in 2011. The parties have been negotiating outside of court since early 2012, and the case was stayed for a sixth time Sept. 17.

Freewine / Flickr Creative Commons

The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations sued the state more than two years ago to stop Oklahoma’s City attempt to pipe water northwest from Sardis Lake. On Tuesday, all the parties involved asked for the case to be stayed a sixth time, for 120 more days.

Olliehigh / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma City already depends on water from southeastern Oklahoma, but the 60-inch, 100-mile pipeline from Lake Atoka ain’t enough.

Olliehigh / Flickr Creative Commons

While the State of Oklahoma won the Supreme Court Water War with Texas, its in-state skirmish is still simmering.

This battle — between the state and the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations — is being waged within Oklahoma’s borders. But unlike the Red River water dispute, reports from the front lines of Oklahoma’s tribal water war are sketchy and scarce. The Associated Press’ Tim Talley explains news drought: