Tipton vows fight over ski areas’ water

If a lawsuit doesn’t force a reversal of the U.S. Forest Service’s plans to require ski areas to sign over water rights to the federal government, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., is prepared to introduce legislation, he told Club 20 on Saturday.

The National Ski Area Association filed suit this year against the Forest Service to halt the new water-rights clauses the Forest Service is requiring as permits are obtained or being renewed.

The clauses amount to takings under the Constitution as they represent a substantial private investment carried as assets on the ski areas’ balance sheets, Tipton said.

If the Forest Service can take water rights in the process of permitting activities on the forests, “What can’t they take?” Tipton said.

The legal process should play out, “but we’re standing by with legislation” if necessary, he said.

Three ski areas, including Powderhorn Mountain Resort, have obtained permits with the new clause. The other two are in Washington state and California.

Tipton’s comments followed on the heels of questioning by Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca about the process followed by the Forest Service in requiring the water-rights clause in new permits.

“Where was the public process on this policy shift?” Acquafresca asked Jim Bedwell, director of recreation, heritage and volunteer resources for the Forest Service.

There was none, Bedwell said, noting the public-review process is part of the litigation.

In any case, Bedwell said, the new clause is an 18-month interim directive that can be changed within the Forest Service when it expires.

The new clause is the continuation of a policy that stretches back to the 1980s to have ski-area water rights held in the name of the United States. Bedwell acknowledged the clause is controversial, “but we have good intentions of maintaining ski areas over time” with it.

Part of the reasoning for the clause is to tie water to ski area lands so that if a ski area fails, the water will continue to be used for skiing under new operators, Bedwell said.

If, however, no ski-area-beneficial use can be found for the water, “We can and will repurpose it,” Bedwell said.


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