MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Columns

August 24, 2008

Hugo defends federal lawsuit over water sale

The city of Hugo, along with the Hugo Municipal Authority, has entered into a water purchase and sale agreement with the city of Irving, Texas. For that transaction to succeed, however, Hugo must first overcome an obstacle thrown in its path by Oklahoma's legislature - a moratorium on out-of-state sales that has now resulted in federal constitutional litigation.

The facts relating to how Hugo came to find itself in the middle of an Oklahoma water controversy have never been published. They have been told, repeatedly, but for a variety of reasons, mostly territorial and political, Oklahoma citizens have not heard Hugo's story.

Back in 1992 the Oklahoma Legislature overwhelmingly passed Senate Joint Resolution 31, which noted legislative approval of the sale of Sardis and Kiamichi River water to Texas. The bill was strongly supported by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and its Director Patty Eaton. No sale to Texas followed at the time, however, because, as Eaton explained in official correspondence to Lt. Gov. Jack Mildren, "Unfortunately, no user has come forward to contract for this water." The absence of a sale left the state in significant debt to the Corps of Engineers - a debt that remains to this day.

Ironically, Hugo is presently being taken to task for taking exactly the same position that the Water Resources Board and its director took in April, 1992 and the same path that the Oklahoma Legislature took when it passed SJR 31 on May 6, 1992.

In the absence of an out-of-state water sale, and fearful that Hugo Lake would fall under control of sources outside the basin which would not respect the lake's importance to the regional tourism economy, Hugo citizens explored ways to protect their beautiful lake and its vital economic role.

Hugo first approached the Tulsa Corps of Engineers concerning the possibility of "buying" additional storage, in effect raising the normal lake level from 404.5 feet mean sea level, to 409 feet, which was authorized by Congress when the lake was built.

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