Many ski areas in Colorado are located in national forests and are subject to special use permits by the U.S. Forest Service, but a directive issued last year by the Forest Service changed the terms of those permits. That policy change now threatens the water rights of ski areas along with their means for compensation.
In response to the Forest Service’s recent policy change, the Colorado House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution 1004 earlier this morning, which calls on the Forest Service to rescind their directive and reevaluate their policies. State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, sponsored the resolution. This afternoon, he will present House Bill 1013 to the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee to address the issue and protect water rights from unreasonable transfer.
“This is an overreach of power,” state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg said, regarding the U.S. Forest Service’s 2012 directive. “The Forest Service’s recent actions carry far reaching implications for every industry in Colorado that must apply for special use permits, including not just our ski area operators, but also our ranchers, farmers and energy developers.”
“It is absolutely inappropriate for our government to condition special use permits on the restriction, or even the transfer of water rights without any means for compensation,” Sonnenberg added.
The 2012 directive bars ski area operators and other entities from transferring water rights to third parties, even though no federal law provides that authority to the U.S. Forest Service. The directive also requires ski area operators to forfeit their water rights if their special use permit is terminated.
Members from both sides of the aisle in the House of Representatives joined Sonnenberg in voting for his resolution, which passed on a voice vote. House Bill 1013, which prohibits the restriction or transfer of water rights as a condition of a special use permit, will be heard in the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, Feb. 4, at 1:30 p.m.