From the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper/Scot Kersgaard):
“Our interest is in maintaining the ability to provide ski areas with water into the future and to protect the public’s interest by making sure that communities, often small rural communities, that are linked to ski areas can rely on that into the future,” Jim Pena, acting deputy chief for the national forest system, told the Colorado Independent on Wednesday.
Nonetheless, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, along with John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and James Risch, R-Idaho, penned a Dec. 1 letter to the Forest Service asking it to suspend a new clause in the permitting process that essentially transfers water rights — potentially worth tens of millions of dollars — after 2004 from joint ownership between ski resorts and the federal government to just the latter. “Without going into the merits of the water clause itself, it is apparent to us that a careful review of the practical implications of the clause to ski area operations and the changes that would occur under this new clause would prove beneficial to all parties involved,” the letter states.
The water wrangling harkens back to the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986, which originally conceded the water rights to the federal government. Then in 2004, the National Ski Areas Association lobbied the Bush administration to amend the law so resorts obtained a stake in water rights within ski area boundaries. But when the Forest Service tried to convey water rights under the 2004 joint-ownership policy, its lawyers discovered that state laws wouldn’t allow it. Thus, after working with the ski industry for nearly a year to clarify the intent of the 2004 joint-ownership clause, the Forest Service recently implemented a new interim directive that federal officials believe clarified ambiguities in its water policy. The directive is only valid for 18 months and, foresters said, it can be modified if there is evidence that demonstrates financial harm to the resorts.
More water law coverage here.