By Steve Olafson
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A water rights dispute between Native Americans and the Oklahoma government spilled into federal court on Thursday when the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes sued to stop water being taken from tribal lands.
The tribal land is home to some of Oklahoma's best water, and the state's water agency wants to increase the amount taken from it in the coming years and send it to Oklahoma City, the state's largest city.
But the tribes, in their lawsuit against Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma City and the water resources agency, say the state has no jurisdiction over the land the tribes were granted by an 1830 treaty.
Fallin was on her way back to Oklahoma from New York and unavailable for comment on the suit. Officials from Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Water Resources board did not respond to requests for comment.
Sporadic negotiations over the long-standing water dispute began a decade ago, and lawyers for the two tribes cite a series of treaties in staking their water claim.
When the federal government forced Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Cherokee and Muskogee-Creek tribes to leave the U.S. southeast for unsettled land on the Southern Plains, it never reserved any natural resources in what was then known as Indian Territory, said Michael Burrage, an Oklahoma City-based attorney for the tribes.
He added that when Oklahoma was granted statehood in 1906, the state had to disclaim any rights to resources in tribal areas.
Even so, water from tribal land in southeast Oklahoma in recent years has been taken via pipeline to places like Oklahoma City, with a metropolitan population of about 1.2 million.
The tribes now assert that only they have jurisdiction over water on their treaty lands and the state has no right to remove it or grant permits to sell it.
"This is about looking into the future. It's about looking at the sustainability of a clean water supply for the treaty territory," Burrage said. He said the dispute was not over money.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)