Water rights bill hits snag
A measure that would prevent federal agencies from requiring ski areas, ranches, municipalities and others to sign over water rights passed the U.S. House on Thursday in the shadow of a threatened veto.
The Water Rights Protection Act by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., lost the support of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who had co-sponsored the measure, but did garner a dozen Democrat votes in passing 238-174.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced a companion measure in the Democrat-dominated Senate and Tipton said after the vote that he hoped to win the support of Colorado’s senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats.
Senate President Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, also ought to be supportive, Tipton said.
“We’re pleased to know it passed the House,” said Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen. “Hopefully it will pass in the Senate. This is critical to everybody in the West.”
The White House, in a statement of administration policy, said the bill “is overly broad and could have numerous unintended consequences,” including damaging the ability of the Agriculture and Interior departments’ ability to manage resources for the benefit of public land and the environment, as well as maximum beneficial use of federal water facilities ensuring that adequate water is available for fisheries or threatened or endangered species.
In arguing against the measure, Polis also said the bill was overly broad and that he intended it only to apply to ski areas.
Polis called the measure a “job-killing Republican water grab” that shows “Republicans care more about endangered species than they care about jobs.”
The breadth of the bill was intended from the beginning, when Polis originally signed on, Tipton said, noting that it still is supported by the National Ski Areas Association, which sued the U.S. Forest Service when it required ski areas, including Powderhorn Mountain Resort, to sign over water rights in order to obtain a permit to operate on the Grand Mesa National Forest.
The veto threat was pre-emptive, Tipton said, calling on the Senate to take a vote on the bill and let the legislative process go forward.
A federal judge ruled in the suit brought by the ski areas that the Forest Service had failed to comply with federal law in invoking the rule under which it demanded the water rights.