Aerial view of Sardis Lake and Dam in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma

Aerial view of Sardis Lake and Dam in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma

Choctaw and Chickasaw Tribes Sue to Prevent Tapping of Reservoir

The city of Oklahoma City’s desire to pipe water from Sardis Lake, a man-made reservoir in southeastern Oklahoma is running into resistance from locals and two tribes that value the lake as a recreational area, as well as a local water source.

In August, the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction barring the state and the city of Oklahoma City from transporting water from their historic territories in southeastern Oklahoma. That suit concerned water storage rights to Sardis Lake; the amended suit expands the legal claims. An article in The Republic quotes from the suit, which says that the city and state may not use Tribal land for any purpose, “including as a site for existing or additional pipelines or any other structures used to export water from the treaty territory to Oklahoma City.”

That assertion has caused consternation from officials who feel it threatens the Atoka pipeline, which currently delivers water to central Oklahoma and has for nearly 50 years. City Manager Jim Couch said that with this latest move, “the tribes have only added to the legal mess around water rights.”

The tribes’ lawyer, Michael Burrage, says the intent of the litigation is being misread. “We do not intend to interrupt the flow of water to anybody,” he said. “I don’t know where that got started. … It’s not our intent to shut that water off.”

Tribal members and locals have seen what happened to other lakes tapped by the city, and are very wary of the same thing happening to Sardis Lake. “They want all the water from the rivers and lakes—and that’s just Oklahoma City,” said Bob local resident Bob Vandiver, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. “We still have to contend with north Texas. … I saw what Oklahoma City did to Lake Atoka—they sucked it dry. It’s now basically a mudhole.”

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