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The Supremes Say No Red River Water for North Texas

No water from the Oklahoma part of the Red River for Texas
No water from the Oklahoma part of the Red River for Texas

If North Texans thought they'd get their hands on Oklahoma water from the Red River, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled they've got another thing coming.

The Tarrant Regional Water District has been trying to buy water from Oklahoma to help the growing population up in that corner of Texas -- you know, the part where Dallas and Fort Worth are located -- but Oklahoma legislators passed laws that basically made it illegal to sell North Texas the water.

Texas argued that the Red River Pact, an agreement made between Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana and approved by Congress in 1980, said that the states would share water "equitably" as it flows through the states. The thing is, Tarrant found the water that flowed south from Oklahoma was unusable by the time it reached Texas. About six years ago, the water district asked to tap into the water further up, across the border in Oklahoma. Oklahoma declined the request, citing laws that protect their water, and the folks at the Tarrant Regional Water District sued.

They spent more than $6 million on the lawsuit, so either they were very sure some court would eventually decide they were in right or they must really want that water, and considering both the population boom they're experiencing up there (for some reason people seem to actually want to live near Dallas -- had too) and the drought that has gripped so much of the state, it's understandable that Tarrant would try to tap into a Red River tributary. They justified it by saying the Red River Compact, all sanctioned by Congress, gave them the right. (Though they never once brought up Red River, the actual movie, so maybe they missed a legal opening there.)

However, wanting is not having, and on Thursday morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Oklahoma had a right not to sell their water to North Texas, no matter how much North Texas wanted it. Tarrant could still get the water it's after, but it will be a lot more expensive now because it will be full of salts and other stuff that will have to be filtered out, according to StateImpact Texas.

 

In short -- and to work in a few Supremes jokes -- if the Supreme Court had to decide to convey their opinion in song, it would have been "Stop! In the Name of Law," because they were having none of Tarrant's claims. (Would Justice Sonia Sotomayor sing the Diana Ross part or would it go to Justice Antonin Scalia?)

They didn't say it in song, but Sotomayor was pretty to the point in writing the opinion for their unanimous decision.

"We hold that Tarrant's claims lack merit," Sotomayor wrote, smacking down the notion that any of the four states have the right to reach in and take water from a state across the border.

Still, there are other big decisions due to be coming down from the Supreme Court -- namely the UT case that could make a ruling on affirmative action -- and as the drought drags on in parts of the state, there are plenty of opportunities for more legal water wrangling (Mexico. New Mexico. Any other place that can possibly be tapped for water.)

And life is full of surprises, so maybe someday we'll even see the Supremes put on some shiny outfits and sing some of those great Supremes songs. Fingers crossed for "You Can't Hurry Love."

Note to the Supreme Court Justices: If y'all are reading this and even considering forming a group, make sure if you ever actually do a musical number that there are plenty of sequins and a big sign that says "The Supremes." If y'all are going to do a thing, do it right.


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