The unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum has become a proxy in a political fight about Oklahoma City's water policy.

carletaorg / flickr

American Indian Museum a Proxy in Political Fight over OKC Water Policy

  • Logan Layden
  • Joe Wertz

carletaorg / flickr

The unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum has become a proxy in a political fight about Oklahoma City's water policy.

Balancing the state’s water needs isn’t just about permits and pipelines. It’s political. And Oklahoma City is a case study in how local water policy can have unintended consequences at the state capitol.

The city, state and tribes are wrestling over the $80 million needed to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, a $150 million project that has been derailed by cost overruns and funding issues. OKC has offered to put up $9 million, but more is needed from the state legislature.

Support for additional funding is on “razor-thin” margins at the Capitol, the Journal Record‘s M. Scott Carter reports. And the vote could come down to a few rural lawmakers who aren’t happy with OKC’s “heavy-handed” water policy — “specifically in southeastern and western Oklahoma:”

“I’ve heard several rural legislators say: ‘Why should we help Oklahoma City with their economic development efforts when they aren’t willing to help us with ours?’”, said state Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City. “That’s the problem we’re trying hard to address.”

OKC has been pumping water out of Lake Canton in northeast Oklahoma since January, as the recent drought became more and more critical. That riled lawmakers in the area around the lake, a popular tourist attraction they see as vital to the local economy.

At the time city officials announced their plans, Marlatt and other lawmakers issued a media statement asking city officials to delay drawing the effort until later in the spring because they feared the draw on Canton Lake would devastate the lake and the businesses surrounding it.

“What we feared would happened, happened,” Marlatt said. “We understand they owned the rights to the water, but we were just asking them to delay the release until after we saw what type of spring rains we would get.”

Oklahoma City, he said, went ahead and tapped the lake.

OKC was well within its rights to do what it did, but meeting its water needs at the expense of Canton’s economy is having a ripple effect, and scares lawmakers in southeast Oklahoma. The city has been seeking the right to pipe water from Sardis Lake for years. Mayor Mick Cornett will try to smooth things over.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said he has a meeting planned with several rural legislators on Wednesday. Cornett said he wanted to hear the lawmakers’ concerns.

“I’m just going to listen,” he said. “If they have questions about our water policy, we’re willing to talk to them.”