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WASHINGTON I Last week, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee passed Rep. Scott Tipton’s (R-Colo.) Water Rights Protection Act (H.R.3189) with bipartisan support, clearing the effort to protect privately-held water rights from federal takings for a vote in the House of Representatives.
Over the years, the Forest Service has engaged in numerous attempts to require the transfer of privately-held water rights as a permit condition, amounting to an outright federal taking. During an Oct. 29 House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation hearing, water users testified about their experiences with federal land management agencies interfering with their privately held water rights.
“While I am encouraged that the Forest Service acknowledged their flawed and unnecessary policy and has indicated that their future water rights clause may no longer require the transfer of privately-owned water rights, this clause has yet to be seen,” Tipton said. “They have aggressively pursued such takings for over two years and their comments indicate that we will likely only see a temporary fix for one group of water users in one region.
“Water users need certainty that all federal land management agencies, not just the U.S. Forest Service, are prohibited from future attempts to take privately-held water rights,” he said. “Additionally, H.R. 3189 would prohibit future Forest Service officials from shifting course and engaging in similar water grabs in the future.”
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) reiterated support for H.R. 3189 in light of the Forest Service announcement.
“Despite this announced change in policy, we still need Congress to pass the Water Rights Protection Act,” Tipton said.
“The policy change announced by the agency this week is the fourth change in Forest Service water policy for ski areas in 10 years,” wrote Michael Berry, president of the NSAA. “These changes are disruptive, create uncertainty and adversely impact our operations, planning and future growth.
“The ski industry can’t afford to be subjected to a different water policy with each administration,” he stated.
Tipton introduced H.R. 3189, the Water Right Protection Act, in September with bipartisan support from Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). It has received strong support from a broad coalition of local, state and national stakeholders, and a companion bill is being carried in the Senate by John Barrasso (Wyo.).
The Water Rights Protection Act: Prohibits agencies from implementing a permit condition that requires the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government in order to receive or renew a permit for the use of land; prohibits the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from imposing other conditions that require the transfer of water rights without just compensation; upholds longstanding federal deference to state water law; and has no cost to taxpayers.