NSAA vs. USFS: ‘[S]tate water laws currently protect the use of those developed water rights adequately’ — Bonnie Peterson

Snowmaking at Copper Mountain -- Photo / ColoradoSki.com
Snowmaking at Copper Mountain — Photo / ColoradoSki.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A measure that would prohibit the U.S. Forest Service from requiring ski areas to surrender water rights for operating permits by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., garnered support from U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat. Tipton, whose district includes most of the Western Slope and several ski areas, introduced the Water Rights Protection Act with U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., in response to the requirement that was first employed with the new ownership of Powderhorn Mountain Resort near Grand Junction in 2011. Tipton hinted earlier this summer that he was preparing legislation aimed at codifying Western water rights.

The Water Rights Protection Act, or HR3189, will extend beyond ski area permits, Tipton’s office said, noting it will apply to all water rights’ holders whose rights are conferred under state law, federal or state adjudication, decrees, and interstate water compacts. The bill also would apply to conditions for transfer or relinquishment, and for any restriction or impairment of water rights made for the benefit of the federal government, Tipton’s office said.

In the Powderhorn case, new ownership was required to sign over water rights issued under state law in order to obtain the Forest Service permit to operate the resort.

The National Ski Areas Association based in Lakewood filed suit and a federal judge ordered the Forest Service to comply with federal law requiring public comment on such significant changes in policy. No new policy has been made public.

The Forest Service said the policy was necessary to prevent ski areas from selling off their water rights for other purposes, a practice that Tipton noted in a statement on the bill had never happened. Ski areas use their water rights for snowmaking.

The measure would preserve state water law that is “being undermined by federal intrusion that creates uncertainty and jeopardizes the livelihoods of communities, individuals, and businesses responsible for thousands of jobs,” Tipton said in a statement. “To undermine this system is to create risk and uncertainty for all Western water users.”

Western Slope advocacy organization Club 20 supports Tipton’s efforts. “Club 20 policy does not support the Forest Service ski area water rights clause and supports Congressman Tipton’s efforts to keep the (Forest Service) from requiring that ski areas turn their water rights over to the federal government,” Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Peterson wrote in an email. “Should this practice be allowed, Club 20 members are concerned that the federal government would extend its reach to take ownership of water associated with other uses, like grazing and municipal water rights from those that have legitimately developed and own those rights.

“Water is a state issue and state water laws currently protect the use of those developed water rights adequately,” Peterson wrote.

More water law coverage here.

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