Arnold & Porter Wins Unanimous Supreme Court Western Water Rights Decision

June 19, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 19, 2013 -- In an important case for Western water rights, Arnold & Porter obtained a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court victory for Oklahoma regarding the meaning of the Red River Compact, an interstate water-sharing compact between Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. On Thursday June 13, the Supreme Court held in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann that the Compact does not give Texas the right to take water located outside its borders. Rejecting the arguments of Tarrant Regional Water District, which had argued that the compact entitled Texas to divert water from Oklahoma's Kiamichi River, the Supreme Court held that "[t]he Compact creates no cross-border rights in Texas" and thus does not preempt Oklahoma water statutes that restrict out of state diversion of water. Moreover, the Court held, the Oklahoma water statutes do not violate the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

The Tarrant decision has significant implications for other states that participate in multi-state water compacts, particularly in the West, where water is scarce. There are more than two dozen compacts nationwide, and the Court's opinion confirmed that states do not relinquish their sovereign prerogatives over water within their states absent express language in a water compact to that effect.

Lisa Blatt, the head of Arnold & Porter's Appellate and Supreme Court practice, argued the case before the Supreme Court. In addition to Blatt, the Arnold & Porter team included Andrew Karron, Sarah Harris, Reeves Anderson, and Isaac Rosenberg.

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