The power of water rights

Regional interests mull purchase of Shoshone hydroelectric plant

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“Teapublican” Congressman Scott Tipton’s latest weekly “Update” once again reveals that the 3rd C.D. is being “represented” by a disingenuous right-wing extremist who is expending taxpayers’ dollars to propound dishonest anti-government propaganda to his gullible constituents.

Tipton claims that his “Water Rights Protection Act” (HR 3189)—which passed the House last week—would stop federal agencies charged with managing public lands and water from “using the federal permit, lease, and land management process to extort water rights from those who hold rights under state law . . . [thereby] violating private property rights, and the United States Constitution”.

Of course, as is usual with Tipton, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Rather, beginning under Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1983, Forest Service permits have required that private water rights to use public water for snow-making be titled in the name of the “United States” – thus ensuring that such water rights “run with the land” and cannot be transferred for other commercial uses – to the potential detriment of successor ski operators, local communities, graziers, and/or the national forests themselves.

For some twenty years, that common sense policy was inconsistently enforced (but not “waived”)—and some Colorado ski areas obtained water rights without so titling them. 

In 2004, Republican President George Bush’s Forest Service again began requiring joint ownership of those water rights with the “U.S”., but “grandfathered” older non-compliant permits.  In 2011, President Obama’s Forest Service sought to restore consistency to this long-standing policy by requiring compliance as a permit renewal condition.

Thus, contrary to Tipton’s falsehoods, the federal government has not been attempting to “extort” anything from anyone, water rights are always “conditional” on “beneficial use”, and nothing about the policy “violates the United States Constitution”.

Rather, Tipton continues to violate the trust of his district.

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