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Oklahoma Won't Press Texas on Water Pump

Oklahoma says it will allow a North Texas water district to resume pumping water from Lake Texoma, even though some of the district’s pumps sit — just barely — inside Oklahoma territory.

An orange circle on the floor of a raw water pump station on Lake Texoma indicates the state line between Texas and Oklahoma.

Texas and Oklahoma have averted another water squabble, at least for now.

Oklahoma says it will allow a North Texas water district to resume pumping water from Lake Texoma, even though some of the district’s pumps sit — just barely — inside Oklahoma territory. 

That’s according to a memorandum of understanding signed by Gov. Rick Perry and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. The agreement, announced Monday, is the latest development in the nearly two centuries of debate over the exact whereabouts of Texas’ 540-mile border with Oklahoma, a saga whose latest chapter involves invasive mollusks, a lost map and an idle water supply.

“The State of Oklahoma will not object to the location of the pumps, or the replacement of pumps with the same total capacity, within the State of Oklahoma,” the memorandum says.

That clears up some, but not all, of the questions about the border as Texas considers whether it will press Oklahoma and Congress to revise it.

In 2000, the states thought they had redrawn the border for the last time. A decade later, however, the North Texas Municipal Water District discovered that boundary erroneously bisected its water pumping station in Lake Texoma, where officials discovered an infestation of havoc-wreaking zebra mussels, which have disrupted underwater food chains across the nation and clogged power and water plants.

The mussel swarm left 28 percent of the district’s water supply untapped because federal law bars the cross-state transfer of zebra mussels and other “injurious species.” That prompted the water district to petition Congress for an exemption and ask the states to redraw the border.

In December 2013, Perry assembled the Red River Boundary Commission, a five-member body instructed to study the issue. The body is expected to release final recommendations by mid-2015.

Changing the border would require Texas and Oklahoma lawmakers to agree on an interstate compact, which Congress would then need to ratify.

Meanwhile, the North Texas Municipal Water District, which has kept its Lake Texoma pumps off, is putting the finishing touches on a $300 million pipeline system that will kill and filter out the mussels. With the district expected to switch on the system before the border error is resolved, Oklahoma, through the memorandum, has promised not to sue Texas or the district for pumping water across the border.

“It’s a really good thing. It’s a great cooperative effort between the states,” said Denise Hickey, spokeswoman for the water district.

Tyler Powell, deputy secretary of environment for Oklahoma, said his state's decision to allow pumping will save it thousands of dollars in potential legal costs. He said Oklahoma has not decided whether it wants to redraw the border, but the memorandum, he said, “shows that he governors are willing to sit down and work together on a solution.” 

The Red River rivals are just seven months removed from their last water battle, which the U.S. Supreme Court resolved, ruling in Oklahoma's favor

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