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Texas Water Wars Foreshadow Nationwide Trend

by Lucas Eaves, published

 Ricardo Garza / Ricardo Garza /

In 2012, the United States experienced the worst drought in the last 50 years. Sixty-one percent of the country was affected by it, leading states to increase their water supply. This, in turn, resulted in a dispute over water rights with neighboring states. Texas water wars with its neighbors are the embodiment of a phenomenon that could become nationwide in the near future. Tweet stat: Tweet

After three years of drought, Texas is currently finding itself at the center of a number of high profile disputes with New Mexico concerning the Rio Grande and Oklahoma over the Red River. Tweet the news: Tweet

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed at the beginning of the year to hear Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann and is expected to clarify "the right of a state to claim its share of a water rights compact from the waters of the shared river as it flows through a neighboring state."

Tarrant County, located in North Texas, has experienced a demographic growth in recent years and has tried to get access to a vast amount  of water from Oklahoma to support its needs. However, after facing Oklahoma's refusal to sell the water, the county decided to sue the state but has so far lost in lower courts.

Texas also began a lawsuit in front of the U.S. Supreme Court against New Mexico in January over the state's failure to supply the Rio Grande with water from the Elephant Butte reservoir.

Texas claims that under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, New Mexico is not allowed to retain that water which should be given to Texas farmers. The lawsuit is considered by New Mexico officials to be "tantamount to extortion" as sharing more of their water would harm the state's farming industry, which has also suffered from drought.

These lawsuits, however, are not seen to be the most efficient way to increase water resources. Texas lawmaker Lyle Larson introduced a bill last Tuesday that would create a Southwestern States Water Commission, a state level group with the mission to negotiate water agreements with states like Alabama, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Tweet at @RepLyleLarson: Tweet

Mr. Larson believes that more mediation would benefit everybody, but so far “we have not had an open dialogue with folks in Oklahoma City, Santa Fe, Baton Rouge or Little Rock, since the state became sovereign.”

Interstate water wars have been more frequent over the years and as risk of droughts increase in the future, this trend is likely to escalate. The Texas water commission initiative, if successful, could inspire other states that are facing similar problems to favor mediation over lawsuits.

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