A smoother run for 
ski-area water rights

Good news from the U.S. Forest Service last week: The agency announced it no longer plans to demand that ski areas give up a portion of their water rights in exchange for the renewal of their permits to operate on federal lands.

Better news out of Congress last week: A bill by two Colorado congressmen that would prohibit the Forest Service or other federal agencies from trying to implement such a policy against ski areas or other water-rights holders in the future passed out of committee. The Water Rights Protection Act, sponsored by Republican Scott Tipton and Democrat Jared Polis, now goes to the House floor for a vote.

We have joined many others in arguing that the Forest Service policy on ski area water was inappropriate and an unnecessary intrusion of federal authority into what has historically been a state purview in managing water rights.

The fact that the Forest Service claimed it was demanding the rights to ski area water because it feared the water might be sold off was always a nonsensical argument. Ski areas that need water to make snow and enhance their business aren’t likely to sell off the water necessary for snow making. But even if they chose to do so, it is their right under Colorado law, and the water would be available for some other individual.

The water does not belong to the federal government, much to the chagrin of some folks in Washington who have long believed it should.

That’s why the Forest Service announcement last week was welcome. But, as the National Ski Areas Association noted, this marks the fourth change in the agency’s policy on ski area water in 10 years. And that’s why the Tipton-Polis bill needs to be passed.


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