Feds yield; Resorts can keep water
Colorado officials claimed victory in a battle with the U.S. Forest Service over whether the agency could demand water rights in exchange for permits to operate businesses such as ski areas on forest lands.
The agency notified the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday that it wouldn’t insist on ski areas surrendering water rights in exchange for operating permits.
The Forest Service was ordered earlier this year to reconsider its policy after the National Ski Areas Association took the agency to federal court. The Forest Service required the new owners of Powderhorn Mountain Resort to surrender water rights when they sought a new lease in 2011.
That prompted U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., to introduce a bill, the Water Rights Protection Act, with Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., which would prohibit federal agencies from demanding water rights through the use of permits, leases, and other land-management arrangements.
The measure is to be marked up this morning by the Resources Committee.
Tipton said in a statement that he welcomed the Forest Service statement, but said Congress needs to “ensure that all water users are protected from uncompensated federal takings in the long term, not just for one group of water users, in one region, for a limited time.”
Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District includes Powderhorn and several other ski areas.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said the change in the Forest Service position was the result of a compromise brokered by Udall with the Agriculture Department.
“The Forest Service’s statement on these water rights is a victory for our state and our resort communities that depend on outdoor recreation, and it’s a victory I am proud to have fought for,” Udall said.
Udall worked with Forest Service officials to help them understand the ramifications of the policy for Colorado water law, his office said.
The Forest Service is working on a new policy and Udall said he would work with the agency to ensure it will reflect the desires of Colorado residents and ski areas.
Tipton’s measure, meanwhile, came under fire from a number of environmental organizations.
The measure “would gut the federal government’s ability to protect and restore rivers across the Colorado River basin, including those from which water is diverted to support skiing,” the Save The Colorado River Campaign said in a statement.