A Texas water district has offered to pay attorneys, engineers and surveyors for advice to resolve a boundary dispute along the Red River at Lake Texoma.

The North Texas Municipal Water District could pay up to $300,000 for the expert advice after Oklahoma’s Red River Boundary Commission approved the plan at a meeting Tuesday. It still must be approved by the Texas water district’s board of directors at its November meeting.

The dispute involves a water pumping station lying just a few feet on the Oklahoma side of the border. That discovery dates to 2009, when invasive zebra mussels in Lake Texoma caused officials to take a closer look at old survey maps and easements. Those maps wrongly placed the border when the pump station was built in 1989. 

University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr. presented the consultation plans to the five-member commission, which first met in April after being dormant for years.

“We believe these groups are the right ones to help us truly understand all of the issues where we need technical expertise so this commission can make fully educated and confident decisions,” said Harroz, a former dean of the OU College of Law. “There’s a reason this is taking so long. You don’t want to get these boundary issues wrong. You don’t want to get these species issues wrong.”  

In April, officials with the water district proposed swapping equal parts of state territory near the water pumping station. The Oklahoma commission took no action on that proposal and instead directed Harroz to come up with a plan. 

“Those costs are robust, but this is an important water source for us,” David Kelly, the water district’s  governmental affairs and special projects manager, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re committed to this process, and we appreciate the state of Oklahoma helping with that process.”  

The water district has continued to pump water from the lake under a 2014 memorandum of understanding between former Govs. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Rick Perry of Texas. The North Texas Municipal Water District is permitted to take up to 197,000 acre feet of water from the pumping station each year. That pumping station serves about 219,000 people in North Texas.

Without a resolution, the Texas water district estimated it would take at least $50 million to build a new pumping station on the Texas side of the border.

Harroz said if the Texas water district approves the expert consultation costs, they could come back with recommendations before the Oklahoma Red River Boundary Commission in late February or March 2024. 

“Whenever you’re moving state boundary lines, you don’t want to get it wrong a second time,” Harroz said. “It’s bad enough to get it wrong the first.”

Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or pmonies@oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter @pmonies. 

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