The State of Texas sued the State of Oklahoma in 2009 in an effort to buy what Texas believes is excess water from the Sardis Reservoir in Southeastern Oklahoma. While the Oklahoma Legislature has opposed the sale, so has the Choctaw Nation which asserted a right to the water going back to treaties with the U.S. 150 years ago, before Oklahoma Statehood.
The Choctaw Nation retained Winner & Associates to assist it in articulating its historic right to the water and to communicate its long term stewardship over the rivers and lakes in its 11-county territory. The tribe was also seeking to raise its public profile as a protector of the environment.
W&A conducted extensive public opinion research relating to general public and tribal attitudes toward the sale of water to Texas, as well as sale of Sardis water to Oklahoma City. A strategic communications plan developed by W&A outlined messages that would be the most effective and the firm helped produce a series of television spots and other materials that educated the public about the tribe's rights to the water. A series of other recommendations lead to the tribe hiring its own water experts, supporting a citizens group that similarly opposed sale of the water and engaging in a series of high profile events and communications that drew statewide coverage, including Oklahoma City television stations, the state's biggest business publication and the New York Times.
The two suits filed by the State of Texas were both dismissed by judges and the former governor of Oklahoma engaged the tribe in talks to find an acceptable solution to all parties about potential sale of water to Oklahoma City. The pending deal by Oklahoma City to obtain Sardis Lake water remains in limbo as talks continue with a new governor to find a solution that meets the needs of Oklahoma City, but also respects the tribe's water rights and protects the economic and environmental interests of Southeast Oklahoma.