Forest paternalism

Thank goodness ski resorts in Colorado have the U.S. Forest Service to look after their interests. Otherwise, the ski areas might foolishly sell off their water rights for a few quick bucks, oblivious of the fact they will need those rights in the future to make snow.

At least that’s the logic of the latest statement from Regional Forester Daniel Jiron on why the Forest Service is initiating a new public process to find a legal means of gaining control of ski area water rights.

By that logic, the Forest Service may want to also seek the water rights that municipalities such as the city of Grand Junction have for water that originates on national forest lands, not to mention numerous irrigation districts. Can’t trust those short-sighted locals to look to the future to protect their water, after all.

No wonder 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton is upset. He’s right that this process presents a threat of federal pre-emption of Colorado’s water-rights system.

The Forest Service agreed to create a public process on this only after it tried to obtain water rights from ski areas when they renewed their Forest Service permits. It was blocked by a federal judge who said they needed to first obtain public input.

In addition to threatening Colorado’s water-rights system, Jiron’s reasoning for why it must be done — to protect ski areas from themselves — highlights the paternalistic belief of some federal bureaucrats that businesses and local entities can’t be trusted to decide what’s in their own best interest.

If the Forest Service is concerned about ski areas selling their water rights, the federal agency should buy those rights through Colorado’s court-adjudicated water-rights system.


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