Monday, January 21, 2013

Texas Asking Supreme Court to Settle Water Disputes with Neighboring States

Article first appeared on The Wall Street Journal

Texas officials are heating up the water wars with neighbors New Mexico and Oklahoma over river water rights and allotments in an attempt to alleviate some of the continually growing demand.  A Washington DC Agricultural Lawyer is monitoring this case.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this month to take up a dispute between Texas' Tarrant Regional Water District, an agency that supplies water to 1.7 million people in north Texas, and Oklahoma, over water that flows into the Red River. So far, lower courts have ruled for Oklahoma.  A Chicago Environmental Lawyer firm has been reviewing the details in these proceedings.

Drought-plagued Texas also asked the Supreme Court this month to consider a separate lawsuit alleging that New Mexico isn't giving Texas its allotted share of water from the Rio Grande as spelled out under a 1938 compact. No other court has ruled on that case.

Texas officials maintain they had to take action against New Mexico because farmers and ranchers are illegally siphoning off some of Texas' share of the river, which provides about half of the drinking water for El Paso.  A Boston Environmental Defense Lawyer has been reviewing court decisions as the case progresses.

Legal and political battles over river water are common in Western and Plains states, especially over the water in the Colorado River, which is rationed among seven states and Mexico, and used by more than 30 million people.

But the skirmishes are becoming more serious across the nation because of current drought conditions. Texas was experiencing moderate or greater drought in 84% of its territory as of Jan. 8, according to federal monitors.  Birmingham Environmental Defense Lawyer offices are aware of the battle between the states.

Texas has been one of the fastest-growing states for years and gained more people in the year ended July 1, a total of 427,400, than any other state, according to the Census Bureau. Texas officials forecast it will need an additional 8.3 million acre-feet of water by 2060, when its population is expected to surpass 46 million, up from 25 million now. (An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre a foot deep.)

Some state water agencies have already been forced to make tough decisions about who should receive limited supplies. For an unprecedented second straight year, many rice farmers in Texas, the nation's fifth-largest rice producer, will probably not receive enough water to flood their fields. An agency overseeing reservoir management in central Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority, voted this month to withhold deliveries to the farmers if rainfall does not increase substantially by March.  A Denver Environmental Lawyer has also been monitoring the case.

Fearful that water shortages could stunt growth in Texas, the legislature is considering tapping the state's rainy-day fund to finance water projects. A leading proposal by state Rep. Allan Ritter, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee in Texas, would use $2 billion from the rainy-day fund to create a revolving loan program for water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Texas officials say they are taking legal measures to ensure the state receives all the river water to which it is entitled under interstate compacts. That has become increasingly important because some other water sources, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, are slowly being depleted, according to state forecasters.

The amount of water that trickles down to the state from mountain snows also has fallen in recent years. Federal forecasters warned this month that snowfall so far this winter in the upper Rio Grande basin was less than 70% of the average for the past three decades, an ominous sign for downstream reservoirs supplying Texas.  A Valrico Environmental Lawyer has been keeping tabs on this case as well.

Water in the Red River is divided among four states—Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. The Tarrant Regional Water District is trying to force Oklahoma officials to allow it to capture water in Oklahoma, where it is less salty, and pipe the water into Texas.

Texas argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that the state could lose $49 billion in annual income by 2060 if its agencies can't meet the water needs of north Texas, and claimed Oklahoma didn't even need the water in dispute.   There is an Atlanta Environmental Lawyer monitoring the ongoing battle.

"The result of Oklahoma's economic protectionism is the ongoing flow of billions of gallons of water, unused, into the Gulf of Mexico," the state's lawyers wrote.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit sided with Oklahoma, which passed a law in 2009 barring water from being transported to other states without the consent of Oklahoma's legislature.   In Pennsylvania, there is a Philadelphia Environmental Lawyer as well as a Philadelphia Environmental Defense Lawyer that are watching the progressing multi-state water legal fight.

This deal between the states does not allow Texas to enter Oklahoma to take water, Oklahoma officials argue, instead, Texas should be taking its share of the water from farther downstream.