BLM, like Forest Service, Attempting to Take Private Water Rights

WASHINGTON – During today’s House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation hearing on Threats, Intimidation and Bullying by Federal Land Managing Agencies, witnesses told Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has also attempted to hijack privately held water rights. U.S. Forest Service efforts to do the same have been well-documented in previous hearings.

Tim Lowry, a rancher from Oregon, testified during the hearing that from almost the moment his family purchased their ranch, the BLM began attempts to inhibit their ability to utilize their grazing rights. Read his full testimony here.

“The federal government forced us into court and massive debt in an attempt to steal our stock water rights,” said Lowry in his opening testimony.  “The United States objected to our stock water rights claims that were filed pursuant to the Snake River Basin Adjudication and filed its own stock water rights claims to the same water.”

After a decade-long legal battle that has racked up more than $800,000 in legal fees for Lowry, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in Lowry’s favor and against federal attempts to hijack his privately-held water rights.

“I felt intimidated walking into that room full of Justice Department attorneys, BLM personnel, who had been dedicated to trying to obtain those water rights in the adjudication. And being told that we had no legal position to hold a water right—that we were mere permitees there at the permission of the United States government, and had no right,” said Lowry.

Tipton asked Lowry if the federal government had offered any compensation for the rights the BLM was attempting to take.

“They were not willing to compensate anything.” Lowry answered.

“So the federal government can just jump in, take your private property rights, take your water rights that you paid for and you developed with no compensation. That’s their opinion?” asked Tipton.

“That was the course they were taking and what was being attempted, yes,” Lowry said.

VIDEO of Tipton and Lowry’s exchange is available here.

“It’s important to note that this is just not a Forest Service water grab, there is also BLM water grab in the West. [Water] is the lifeblood of the Western United States,” Tipton said. “The bipartisan Water Rights Protection Act seeks to protect local water rights from federal government overreach and takings by prohibiting federal agencies from pilfering water rights through the use of permits, leases, and other land management arrangements, as well as by upholding longstanding federal deference to state water law on which countless water users rely. This legislation, if passed, would prevent the abuse we heard about in today’s hearing, and save ranchers, farmers and other users from having to engage in drawn-out, expensive legal battles with federal agencies just to defend their private property rights from federal takings.”

H.R. 3189, the Water Right Protection Act, which Tipton introduced earlier this month with bipartisan support from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), has received strong support from a broad coalition of local, state and national stakeholders concerned with recent federal attempts to hijack privately-held water rights.

During the hearing several of the witnesses spoke on the need to pass Congressman Tipton’s Water Rights Protection Act, including ranchers Tim Lowry, Wayne Hague Jr. and Lorenzo Valdez, joining the broad local, state and national support the bill has received to date.

Full witness testimony will be available on the House Natural Resources Committee website here.

The Water Rights Protection Act:

  • Prohibits agencies from implementing a permit condition that requires the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government in order to receive or renew a permit for the use of land;
  • Prohibits the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from imposing other conditions that require the transfer of water rights without just compensation;
  • Upholds longstanding federal deference to state water law;
  • Has no cost to taxpayers.

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