A meeting to explore the present and future of Lake Texoma drew almost 300 area residents to Kingston High School Saturday, but only a few representatives invited from many public and private organizations involved with the lake showed up.
The discussion ranged widely, but turned somewhat angry when it focused on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by Govs. Mary Fallin and Rick Perry of Oklahoma and Texas. The MOU covered Texas drawdowns from the lake, which is at very low levels.
Three elected officials did make it to the meeting, State Sen. Perry Ellis (D-Valiant), State Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) and Marshall County Commissioner Chris Duroy. Ellis, responding to audience complaints, noted that a Texas effort to gain additional Oklahoma water had been turned aside in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court. He urged all to cooperate to fight to retain their rights to lake water. In pushing for everyone to push for Oklahoma water rights, he said, “ Fight till Hell freezes over, and then fight on the ice.” Then he added, “When I feel the heat I see the light.”
Hardin, adding to the MOU issue, said he was pushing to get the state’s water resources board to consider drought conditions when it is determining drawdown rules.
Robert Jackman, an engineer who has been involved in water rights disputes for several years, said that the key is for the public to “never stop fighting” to protect your water rights. He noted that Oklahoma City had attempted to draw more heavily from Lake Atoka but was stymied by persistent complaints from area residents, several of whom eventually took their complaints to the Capitol and “got in the faces of legislators there.”
What is needed greatly, Jackman said, is a massive, multi-state comprehensive study of the Red River. He pointed out that the river goes through Arkansas and Louisiana as well as Oklahoma and Texas. Those states are our allies, he said, because they need Red River water and in fact have some prior rights over Oklahoma and Texas. The states, he said, should work together to keep “so much water power going out.”
Moderator Lisa Davis, a Kingston resident, stressed the need for Texas and Oklahoma to cooperate in dealing with the lake’s low levels and extensive silting. She said there is a need for a comprehensive plan for when the lake recovers.
Marshall County Commissioner Duroy described a pilot program to take advantage of the low lake levels to clean up the lake and the shoreline. Already, he said, a volunteer group pulled a lot of tires out of the lake as part of the program. He was asked about possible dredging and said that dredging and other lake matters will be discussed further at another public meeting on April 4 in Durant.
Deby Snodgrass, executive director of the state Department of Tourism and Recreation, also came under fire, particularly for her role in the closing or privatization of 12 state parks in the past year. The closing of Hugo State Park was overturned, Davis noted, as a result of area residents’ pressure. Davis said she is pushing legislation that would require Snodgrass to give 60 days’ notice to the public before a park is closed.