Legislature makes it clear 
feds shouldn’t grab water

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While it remains locally fashionable to falsely accuse the federal government of seeking to “grab” western water rights via a “flawed policy” (“Legislature makes it clear feds shouldn’t grab water”), Sentinel readers deserve better from its editors.

What’s missing from the Sentinel’s opinion and ignored by anti-government panderer Scott Tipton’s proposed legislation is the underlying fact that the Forest Service is pursuing a sensible long-standing 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 private rights to “beneficially use” public water obtained from National Forests under Colorado law remain dedicated to that purpose.

Since 1983 (under Republican Ronald Reagan), Forest Service permits required ski areas to title water rights used for snow-making in the name of the United States – thereby ensuring that such water rights “run with the land” and cannot be readily transferred for other purportedly “beneficial” uses – to the potential detriment of successor ski operators, local communities, graziers, and/or the national forest itself.

For the next 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 George Bush’s Forest Service began requiring joint ownership of those water rights with the U.S., while dubiously “grandfathering” older non-compliant permits.  In 2011, President Obama’s Forest Service sought to restore consistency to the policy by requiring compliance as a condition for permit renewal.

In December 2012, a federal court – without ruling on the renewal conditions – ordered the Forest Service to withdraw its directive, pending proper 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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