Feds seek comment on tying water rights to ski areas’ permits
The U.S. Forest Service will seek out public comment on plans to tie water rights and ski-area permits together.
The process to gain public comment was the first since a federal judge rebuffed the Forest Service for failing to conduct a public process when it required ski areas to surrender water rights in exchange for the permits under which they operate on lands managed by the Forest Service.
Powderhorn Mountain Resort’s current ownership was the first to be required to sign over water rights when it purchased the ski area in 2011.
The National Ski Area Association sued the Forest Service last year and the resulting order called on the Forest Service to pursue greater public involvement in drafting a directive.
“Establishing an inclusive process on this important issue will help meet long-term goals,” Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Daniel Jirón said on Monday as he testified to the Colorado Legislature. “Maintaining the water with the land will ensure a vibrant ski industry, and resilient and healthy national forests and mountain communities into the future.”
Critics of the requirement maintain, however, that it hampers ski resorts.
“The reality is that anytime we look at the federal government taking over water rights, it diminishes the value of the ski area, it diminishes the ability of the ski area to operate fully because it’s at the mercy of the U.S. Forest Service,” said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, the West Slope advocacy organization.
Club 20 also has voiced concern that federal agencies could require water rights in exchange for other uses of federal lands by ranchers, municipalities and others.