Monday is the deadline for the USFS to respond to the Ski Area Association’s lawsuit over permit requirements for water rights


From The Wall Street Journal (Ann Zimmerman):

Federal officials have until Monday to respond to a lawsuit by a trade group for the owners and operators of ski destinations, challenging a new directive that requires resorts operating on Forest Service lands to transfer water rights to the federal government.

The group’s suit, filed in U.S. district court in Colorado in January, alleges the change is an “uncompensated taking of private property” by the federal government. Ski-area owners contend it will diminish the value of the water rights they obtained “at great expense,” according to the suit, and prevents them from selling those rights to anyone but another ski operation. The Forest Service says the new directive will guarantee the water will always remain with the mountain…

The ski-resort operators argue the regulation covers water rights they have purchased from both federal and private lands. But the Forest Service insists it only pertains to water rights obtained from federal lands, and the agency said it plans to change the directive’s language to make that clear. Even so, the ski operators say they still wouldn’t be satisfied…

The ski association and its members are concerned that they wouldn’t get fair market value for the water rights if there was only one type of buyer, rather than allowing numerous bidders. “We had no choice but to defend ourselves and our property by filing suit,” said Geraldine Link, the group’s director of public policy.

Officials with the Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, said the aim of the revamped clause is to make clear that resorts cannot sell the water rights and leave towns and mountains high and dry…

Last fall, after news of the impending permit clause became public, the ski association and several congressmen asked the Forest Service to study the issue further and get public comment. The agency declined and began enforcing the directive in November.

Ski groups noted that under the new clause, the federal government would be permitted to sell off the same water it is worried the resorts will auction to the highest bidder. The Forest Service’s Mr. Peña said his department plans to strengthen the language to make clear it doesn’t intend to sell the rights or repurpose them for any use but skiing.

More water law coverage here.

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