Tipton’s bill aims to protect water rights from the feds | VailDaily.com

Tipton’s bill aims to protect water rights from the feds

The Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 1830)

Rep. Scott Tipton’s Water Rights Protection Act would:

Prohibit 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;

Prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from imposing other conditions that require the transfer of water rights without just compensation;

Uphold longstanding federal deference to state water law;

Maintain environmental safeguards, and will not impact Bureau of Reclamation water contracts in any way. Likewise, the legislation will have no impact any authority existing within a jurisdiction.

These are outside the scope of the legislation.

Has no cost to taxpayers.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. congressman representing Colorado’s entire Western Slope reintroduced a bill last week that prohibits the federal government from taking water rights without paying for them.

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colorado) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) reintroduced their Water Rights Protection Act. The bill passed in the House last year but died without a hearing in the Senate.

It’s aimed at stopping two U.S. Forest Service directives:

The groundwater directive targets groundwater users of all kinds, including ranching, mining, utilities and ski areas operating on federal land.

The ski area directive would transfer ownership of ski area water rights to the U.S. Forest Service, as a condition of getting a Forest Service permit to operate.

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A federal judge struck down that Forest Service ski area directive in February, but not before the Forest Service required the new owners of the Powderhorn ski area on western Colorado’s Grand Mesa to sign over their water rights in 2012. The feds also did it in California’s Alpine Meadows and Washington’s Stevens Pass ski areas.

The Forest Service backed away from its groundwater directive in February but has been collecting public input for a new rule, Tipton said.

‘Federal overreach’

Tipton said he and Barrasso are trying to stop “nefarious federal overreach.”

“These federal water grabs undermine the long-held state water law that protects the many uses vital to the Western U.S.,” Tipton said.

Tipton said the scope of this bill is narrow. It’s designed to protect property ski areas and other federal permittees from seizure without compensation by the federal government.

If Tipton’s bill becomes law, then if the Forest Service or any other government agency wants water rights, then they’ll have to buy them at fair market value.

Preserving water rights

Leslie Weldon, deputy chief of the Forest Service, told the House Natural Resources Committee last week that the ski area directive is designed to make sure ski areas on Forest Service land have enough water to operate.

By the end of the comment period for its groundwater proposal on May 6, the Forest Service had been urged by elected officials, states, tribes and others not to move forward and to consult them before they did, Weldon said.

“We have listened and are actively having those conversations now,” Weldon said. “We will not move forward until we can address the concerns raised. It is the intent of the Forest Service that nothing in the implementation of our stewardship responsibilities for national forests and grasslands infringes on state authority for water allocation and state and tribal authority for water quality protection.”

Federal protection from the feds

The National Ski Areas Association represents 332 resorts around the country, and says they need the kind of stability federal legislation would bring.

The NSAA says the Forest Service’s ski area directive has changed four times in 10 years, beginning in 2004.

The NSAA won in federal court last year, and is encouraging the kinds of protections included in Tipton’s bill.

“Essentially everyone agrees on the need for this protection, given past and current Forest Service policy that demands transfer of valuable water rights to the U.S. without compensation,” the National Ski Areas Association said in a written statement.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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