Court Upholds Arbuckle Aquifer Law

The following is a news release from Senator Jay Paul Gumm:

OKLAHOMA CITY – In a landmark decision handed down Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a law to protect the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer is indeed constitutional.

The law – passed in 2003 by Senator Jay Paul Gumm and Rep. Paul Roan – was challenged almost immediately upon being signed into law by landowners seeking to sell the groundwater to Oklahoma City suburbs. The aquifer is an underground lake that provides the base flow for Blue River, Pennington Creek and a host of other streams.

In October 2004, Oklahoma County District Judge Carolyn Ricks ruled the law was constitutional. After losing at the trial court, the landowners appealed their decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The 6-1 opinion was handed down today, almost three years after the law was signed.

“This law ensures our part of Oklahoma will continue to survive and have the opportunity to thrive,” said Gumm, a Democrat who is serving his first term. “We are grateful to the Supreme Court who saw the merits of the law and rejected the hollow arguments from those who would put our communities at risk simply for profit.”

Roan, also a Democrat, said the law was carefully written to withstand just this kind of court challenge. “We expected a lawsuit because of the millions of dollars on the other side, and we tried to guess the other side’s arguments,” he said.

“The legal team that defended the law, and the thousands of citizens who have helped in this fight, have proven that people who have a right and just cause can win – even against the odds.”

The pair gave much credit to the grassroots effort of the Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer (CPASA) for passing the bill and standing firm in the face of the long and expensive court battle.

The measure – which has been in effect – prevents the Oklahoma Water Resources Board from granting groundwater permits that would allow any city outside of south-central Oklahoma to pump groundwater from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer and pipe it out of the area.

The moratorium is in place until the board completes a study to see if the aquifer could support that kind of pumping. The study will also determine how much water can safely be taken from the aquifer without damaging the springs and streams.

Once the study is completed and the moratorium lifted, the law requires the Oklahoma Water Resources Board – before granting a groundwater permit – to consider whether the proposed use is likely to degrade or interfere with springs or streams emanating in whole or in part from the aquifer.

That means, for the first time in Oklahoma history, state law – affirmed by the Supreme Court – acknowledges the hydrological connection between groundwater and surface water in the Arbuckle-Simpson basin.

Several communities including Durant, Tishomingo, Ardmore, Ada, Wapanucka and Connerville, and numerous tourist attractions – such as Chickasaw National Recreation Area – depend on the spring flow from the aquifer for their water supplies.

Literally hours after the governor signed the bill in 2003, several landowners who had hoped to sell their groundwater rights to the suburbs filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma County district court alleging the law was unconstitutional.

The trial judge’s decision – now affirmed by the Supreme Court – stated:

· The Arbuckle-Simpson is a unique aquifer justifying different treatment from other aquifers;

· The law advances a legitimate state interest in protecting the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer;

· The law is a general and not an unconstitutional special law;

· The law does not violate the landowners’ equal protection rights nor does it constitute and unconstitutional taking of property; and

· The law is fully valid and enforceable.

“This is a victory for the people of southern Oklahoma,” Gumm said. “The ruling of the Supreme Court gives us every chance to create a brighter future for our children and the generations yet unborn.”

The lawmakers concluded by again expressing their deep gratitude CPASA, and all those who stood with them.

“We could not have made such a landmark change in the law without the support of the people of southern Oklahoma,” Roan said. “Few bills ever have the impact of SB 288, and Senator Gumm and I are both very proud to have worked alongside the great people we represent to save our future.”