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Senate passes water projects bill that includes tribal settlement

WASHINGTON _ The Senate easily approved a water projects bill on Thursday that promises $10 billion for flood control, navigation, safe drinking water and other needs, while also advancing an historic Oklahoma water agreement.

Sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, the legislation passed  95 to 3. The House must pass a similar bill before a final version can be considered. That is expected when lawmakers return in November after the elections. Inhofe said he was committed to getting the bill to President Barack Obama by the end of the year.

“We all have a lot to be proud of with bipartisan passage of another critical infrastructure bill,” Inhofe said.

The bill, co-written by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., authorizes funding for water-related projects across the nation, including Everglades restoration in Florida and drinking water safety in Flint, Michigan.

Maintenance at the Port of Muskogee and Port of Catoosa, in northeast Oklahoma, is included, along with projects at Tulsa levees and the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.

The legislation will also enable the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to coordinate new water storage policies with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare for droughts, according to Inhofe.

J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, called the bill a “comprehensive package of water supply, navigation and other water infrastructure improvements, including Oklahoma’s recently negotiated Indian water rights settlement.”

That settlement was announced last month by the state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, and the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations.

The tribes had sued the state to protect their rights to water in the 22 counties comprising their historic land. The settlement, which ensures tribal input into decisions about various bodies of water, includes provisions allowing Oklahoma City to tap the Sardis Lake, in eastern Oklahoma, in the future.

The agreement requires congressional approval _ something that could have bogged down for months or even years.

Inhofe, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, put approval on a fast track by inserting it into the water projects bill, which was already moving toward passage.

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said,  “We appreciate the quick action taken by Senator Inhofe to secure Senate approval of the historic water rights agreement …  We look forward to working with the House to finalize passage of this historic act this year.”

The water projects bill is the third major piece of legislation that Inhofe and Boxer have pushed through the congressional gridlock of the past two years.

Last year, the two helped assemble a five-year highway bill that boosts transportation funding and gives states a certainty about federal policy and money that had been lacking for years.

Earlier this year, the two forged a compromise on the first overhaul in 20 years of the laws on regulating potentially dangerous chemicals.

"Once again, I think Senator Inhofe and I have proved we can get things done around here," Boxer said Thursday.


Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›