Sardis Lake (Oklahoma)

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For the lake of the same name in Mississippi, see Sardis Lake (Mississippi).
Sardis Lake
USACE Sardis Lake and Dam.jpg
Aerial view of Dam and Lake
Location Pushmataha / Latimer counties, Oklahoma, US
Coordinates 34°39′30″N 95°22′44″W / 34.65833°N 95.37889°W / 34.65833; -95.37889Coordinates: 34°39′30″N 95°22′44″W / 34.65833°N 95.37889°W / 34.65833; -95.37889
Type reservoir
Primary inflows Jackfork Creek
Primary outflows Jackfork Creek
Basin countries United States
Surface area 14,360 acres (58 km2)
Average depth 17 ft (5.2 m)
Water volume 274,333 acre·ft (338.4 hm3)
Shore length1 117 mi (188 km)
Surface elevation 599 ft (183 m)
Islands None
Settlements Clayton
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Sardis Lake is a reservoir in Pushmataha County and Latimer County in Oklahoma, USA, named for the now-defunct town of Sardis, Oklahoma.[a] The dam impounding the lake is located approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Clayton.

Sardis Lake is the focus of a lawsuit by the Chickasaw Nation against the Governor of Oklahoma, (Chickasaw v. Fallin) alleging that the state has ignored the tribe's rights to the water in the lake. The outcome of this case has the potential to become a major legal decision regarding not only this issue, but the rights of Native American tribes in other areas.


The lake covers 14,360 acres (58 km2) with 117 miles (188 km) of shoreline. The lake is an impoundment of Jackfork Creek, a tributary of the Kiamichi River.[1] The lake is also 45 miles (72 km) east of McAlester, Oklahoma. It drains an area of 275 square miles (710 km2).[2]

The lake's normal pool elevation is 599 feet (183 m) above sea level. Its storage capacity is 274,330 acre feet (338,380,000 m3). At flood stage its elevation is 607 feet (185 m) above sea level and its capacity rises to 396,900 acre feet (489,600,000 m3).[3]


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, led by Donald Mahaffey, constructed the dam and lake between 1977 and 1982 under a contract with the state of Oklahoma for the purpose of selling water to municipalities and industrial customers in Oklahoma. Oklahoma agreed to make 50 annual payments and to pay the costs of operating the dam and lake. However, the state was unable to sell the water it needed to recover its costs, so the state discontinued payments to the federal government in 1997. The federal government sued the state for breach of contract and recovery of funds. The case wound its way through the courts and eventually Oklahoma lost the case when the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.[4] Thus, the Corps of Engineers legally owns Sardis Lake.[2]

Proposed transfer of water[edit]

Shortly after Sardis Lake was filled, various plans were presented to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) for moving water from Sardis Lake to the vicinity of Oklahoma City. One of the first plans, presented in 1992, contemplated selling about 93 percent of the water to the North Texas Municipal Water District. Following heated protests, the state legislature rejected the ORWB plan.[5]

A second attempt to sell the lake's water in Texas (this time to a different water district) occurred in the following year. This would have included having the legislature impose a seven-year moratorium on further out of state water sales. This plan also failed to pass in the legislature.[5]


Debt to Corps of Engineers[edit]

A news article in June, 2010, reported that the State of Oklahoma had paid $27 million to the Corps of Engineers to settle the debt.[6]

Chickasaw v. Fallin[edit]

Oklahoma City is endeavoring to purchase the lion's share of water from Sardis Lake. A state contract executed in 2011, reserved 136,000 acre-feet of water for the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust. (OUT)[b]

Several Native American tribes had filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in 2011, seeking an injunction that would prevent the state and Oklahoma City from transporting water from Sardis Lake to Oklahoma City.[c] In particular, the tribes state that they had been excluded from negotiations between the OWRB and the OUT. The Choctaws, for example, claim that the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek gave them authority over water resources in their territory. State officials claim that treaties signed by the tribes after the Civil War relinquished tribal rights, and therefore they can no longer make such claims.[8]

An article published in the Tulsa Law Review describes the potential legal ramifications for this case:

"If the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations successfully obtain either full or substantial rights to the waters in Sardis Reservoir, other federally-recognized trbes that have water rights not yet formally recognized may have the footing needed to seek legal protection of those rights. If Oklahoma wins this case... tribal water rights could be severely impaired and the future social and economic wealth of all the tribes in the state could be jeopardized, beginning with the Choctaw and Chickasaw."[7]


  1. ^ The town was abandoned and submerged when the lake was created about 1980.
  2. ^ This amounts to 86.7 percent of the lake's capacity.
  3. ^ The case is formally known as Chickasaw Nation vs. Fallin 2011 WL 3629363 (W.D. Okla Aug 18), 2011) (No. CIV-11-927-C). Informally, it has been called Chickasaw v. Fallin and the "Chickasaw Nation complaint."[7] The defendant, Mary Fallin, is the Governor of Oklahoma


External links[edit]