Rep.Tipton argues for ski areas’ water rights

A skirmish over ski-area water rights is one aspect of efforts by federal agencies to wrest control of water from the states and concentrate it in the federal government, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said.

The U.S. Forest Service “has come up with new ways to attempt takings of private water rights,” Tipton said during a hearing on how federal agencies deal with water rights in Washington, D.C.

Durango Mountain Resort has been denied access to water by the Forest Service, jeopardizing the resort’s rights under state law, Tipton said.

“This is nefarious and coercive and it has to stop,” Tipton said, noting that with other agencies, “We continue to see a trend of federal intrusion into state water law, which protects all of the uses we hold dear, from recreation to irrigation, domestic use and environmental protection.”

In testimony last week before the Natural Resources subcommittee on water and power, officials from Utah, Texas and Wyoming testified that the Endangered Species Act and a National Blueways System for the monitoring of waterways threaten state control over water.

The Forest Service is now conducting focus-group meetings with organizations about its directive that new ski area-operating permits require owners to surrender water rights to the federal government in order to obtain permits.

The Forest Service expects to offer a new directive later this year for public comment. Its first effort last year was rejected by a federal judge for failure to involve the public.

The original directive was “draconian,” said Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association, who noted that when ski areas sought to have the Forest Service commit to using the water rights for skiing, they were rebuffed.

There was no guarantee the Forest Service would use the rights for snow-making, Link said.

The directive, which was withdrawn by the court order, is “a huge disincentive for ski areas to acquire more water rights in the future,” Link said.


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