Today, Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) issued this statement following an announcement by the U.S. Forest Service to initiate a public comment process as it once again ramps up efforts to implement a directive that would require the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition on National Forest System lands.
“While I appreciate the Forest Service’s willingness to increase public input on matters relating to water rights and public land management, and feel that public opinion should drive policy decisions in this area, I deeply believe that any directive adopted should comply with state water law and protect existing individual water rights. The fact remains that this proposed permit requirement would tamper with state water law in order to accommodate a federal grab of private water rights. This is wrong, and I intend to protect the water rights that many Colorado communities and businesses rely on for their livelihoods.”
In October of 2011, Tipton sent a letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reconsider implementing a permit condition to require the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition on National Forest System lands. Tipton expressed concern over the impact the requirement would have on water rights held by ski areas and ranchers in particular. See the letter here.
Following the letter, Tipton led a Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands oversight hearing on Forest Service Regulatory Roadblocks to Productive Land Use and Recreation: Proposed Planning Rule, Special-use Permits, and Travel Management. This hearing further examined the Forest Service’s proposal which could threaten deference to state water law and infringe upon private property rights.
It was brought to light during the hearing that the USDA is already enforcing the permit requirement despite the fact that it has yet to be officially implemented. Glenn Porzak spoke on behalf of the National Ski Areas Association, and told the committee that the Forest Service required the developers of the Powderhorn ski area (just outside of Grand Junction) to agree to the terms of the permit requirement regardless of future Congressional or court action on it.
The National Ski Areas Association filed suit against the Forest Service to block implementation of the permit directive. In December 2012, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado vacated the 2012 Forest Service directive.