From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
Congress hasn’t delegated authority to the Forest Service to seize private water rights, a Boulder water attorney told a congressional subcommittee Thursday. Glenn Porzak, who represents the National Ski Areas Association and Colorado water agencies, said a Forest Service water-rights policy cast a shadow on the water rights owned by ski areas and other public lands users. The policy required ski areas to surrender state water rights as a condition of obtaining federal operating permits.
Such a policy “creates great uncertainty and great uncertainty inhibits investment,” Porzak said. “That speaks to the urgency of Congress acting on behalf of private water rights.”
Porzak spoke at a hearing of a House Resources subcommittee, which was considering the Water Rights Protection Act by U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and Jared Polis, D-Colo. The measure, H.R. 3189, would prohibit federal agencies from demanding water rights through the use of permits, leases, and other land-management arrangements.
Porzak and Tipton said its important to move forward because a congressional task force concluded in 1997 that Forest Service efforts to “gain control over water rights are invalid because they exceed the Forest Service’s authority” and would result in unconstitutional takings of private property, Porzak said in his testimony.
No Forest Service officials attended the hearing, in part because of the federal shutdown. Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said also that Forest Service officials had notified him before the shutdown that they were reconsidering the policy and wouldn’t attend the hearing.
A federal judge found last year that the Forest Service had failed to follow public-review and comment guidelines and temporarily nullified the policy.
The policy was first used when the new owners of Powderhorn Mountain Resort near Grand Junction were required to surrender water rights to obtain their permit to operate in the Grand Mesa National Forest.
Differences over the water-rights policy have caused problems between ski areas and the Forest Service, which typically work closely together, Porzak said.
“It’s clear on this issue a wedge has been driven” between ski areas and the Forest Service, Porzak said.
From Colorado Copper Condos:
The two biggest ski industry trade associations are joining forces to leverage their lobbying clout with the federal government. In late September, board members from SnowSports Industries America and the National Ski Areas Association teamed up in Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers — and also to discuss how to grow participation in snow sports.
“Getting all of us to focus on the issue and share best practices is the best way to move the needle for the industry. The resorts and the equipment providers are symbiotically linked,” said Stephen Kircher of Boyne Resorts and the NSAA board. We agreed that we need to set our goals higher for conversion, and that we need to rely on data to set these goals.”
The meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress and their key staff members focusing on five main issues: Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, Miscellaneous Tarriff Bill, TSA Policy for Avalanche Air Bag Canisters, Water Rights for Land Resorts and Immigration and Visas…
Water Rights for Land Resorts
Last year, NSAA successfully challenged in federal court a USFS water policy that would require ski areas to turn over ownership of valuable water rights to the U.S. without compensation. The policy also places restrictions on the transfer of water rights that originate off the National Forest System lands, reducing their value and hindering a ski area’s ability to transfer or sell such water rights in the future. These clauses substantially impair the value of these ski area assets and hinder a ski area’s ability to obtain access to capital for growth and expansion in the future by lowering the valuation of the ski area’s assets.
More water law coverage here.