H.R. 3189 and HB14-028 (NSAA vs. USFS): Ski area water rights bills in Denver and Washington DC are both in trouble #COleg

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

A dispute between Colorado ski areas and the Forest Service has caught the attention of the White House, which on Thursday threatened to veto a water-rights bill that U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez will present on the House floor today.

Meanwhile in Denver, state senators delayed a vote on a related bill by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, out of concerns that it improperly singles out the Forest Service.

The bills in Washington and Denver address an effort by the Forest Service to gain title to water rights used by ski resorts that lease federal land.

“This is important to the West. We hope the president won’t politicize this because this isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue,” Tipton said in a phone interview.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, is a co-sponsor of Tipton’s bill, and a few other Western Democrats also support it…

“Basically, it comes down to, does Colorado decide its water-rights system, or does the federal government?” [Sen. Ellen Roberts] said Wednesday at a meeting of the Senate State Affairs Committee…

Cities that have reservoirs on federal land worry that if the Forest Service can take ski water rights, nothing would stop them from claiming reservoirs, too, Moseley said.

However, Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, defended the Forest Service and said most Coloradans would support the principle of keeping ski water rights reserved for skiing.

“This isn’t the mean old federal government telling people what to do. This is the steward of our lands,” Jones said.

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, the committee’s chairman, delayed a vote on Roberts’ bill, saying he thinks it’s an important topic but that the bill might illegally single out one entity, the Forest Service.

As the hearing was happening in Denver, the Obama Administration lowered the boom on Tipton’s bill in Washington by releasing a “statement of administration policy” – essentially, a veto threat.

The U.S. House is scheduled to vote on Tipton’s bill today. It would forbid federal land-management agencies from claiming water rights as a condition of a land-use permit.

“The bill threatens the Federal government’s longstanding authority to manage property and claim proprietary rights for the benefit of Indian tribes and reserved Federal lands, and the broader public that depends on the proper management of public lands and resources,” the unsigned administration statement said…

Tipton has allies, as well. The influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out in support of his bill, and it is expected to pass the House this afternoon.

However, the version of Tipton’s bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate has stalled and has not received a hearing, and Obama’s veto threat could seal its fate.

From the Seattle Times (Kyung M. Song):

The U.S. House on Thursday passed a controversial bill triggered by the U.S. Forest Service’s equally controversial move to assert federal ownership over water rights held by ski areas to tap public streams for snow-making.

The 238-174 vote — with every Republican in favor and all but 12 Democrats opposed — capped a twisted legislative journey that began with a 2012 court fight in Colorado and ended with a bill that critics fear would handcuff federal oversight of water use by ranchers, farmers, oil companies, municipalities and other parties…

The Water Rights Protection Act had the backing of virtually all ski resorts in the United States. Among them are 13 ski areas in Washington, including Crystal Mountain, The Summit at Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass.

But the National Ski Areas Association in recent weeks had been pushing lawmakers to narrow the legislation’s scope out of fear the Democrat-controlled Senate would otherwise reject it. Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and one of the bill’s 15 co-sponsors, withdrew his support and pushed for an amendment to restrict the bill only to ski-area permits.

Instead, House Republicans approved a broader bill that would apply to the Interior Department and the Department of Agriculture, agencies that encompass the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service as well as the Forest Service.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, managed the bill on the House floor as Democrats denounced it as sloppy legislation that would bring far-reaching consequences.

Democrats also repeatedly pointed out that Hastings’ committee held the only hearing on the bill on Oct. 10, in the middle of the 16-day federal- government shutdown and with no witnesses testifying in opposition.

Hastings rejected the criticisms and said the bill simply would protect private property from confiscation under President Obama’s “imperial presidency.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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