Water
 rights 
bill hits snag

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Gary Harmon’s seemingly garbled report – “Water rights bill hits snag” – affords timely opportunity to review why President Obama threatened to veto Congressman Scott Tipton’s bill for being “overly broad” – after it passed the House by a vote of 238-174.

What’s missing from Harmon’s report and ignored by anti-government panderers is the underlying fact that the Forest Service has long been pursuing a sensible policy requiring “that ski areas surrender water rights to the U.S. Forest Service as a condition of obtaining their permits to operate on lands administered by the Forest Service” – so that legally acquired private rights to “beneficially use” public water obtained from National Forests under Colorado law remain dedicated to that purpose.

Since 1983 (under Republican President Ronald Reagan), Forest Service permits required ski areas to title water rights used for snow-making in the name of the “United States” –  ensuring that such water rights “run with the land” and cannot be readily transferred for other purportedly “beneficial” (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 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 the policy by requiring compliance as a permit renewal condition.

In December 2012, a federal court – without ruling on the policy – ordered the Forest Service to withdraw its directive, pending completion of the public process required by the Administrative Procedures Act.  That process is still on-going, and should properly result in re-ratification of the Forest Service’s prudent 30+ year-old policy.



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