House Passes Tipton Water Rights Bill with Bipartisan Support

House Passes Tipton Water Rights Bill

WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed with bipartisan support Congressman Scott Tipton’s (R-CO) legislation to protect private water rights from uncompensated federal takings.

Over the past decade, there have been numerous cases when the federal government has attempted to circumvent long-established state water law in order to take privately-held water rights without paying for them. By using the federal permit, lease, and land management process to extort water rights from those who hold rights under state law, the federal government is overreaching, violating private property rights, and the United States Constitution. The Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3189), which would prohibit this practice, is broadly supported by diverse state, local and national groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau, and many Colorado counties and conservation districts.

Watch video of Tipton’s floor statement prior to passage HERE.

“The Water Rights Protection Act is the result of bipartisan efforts that began in October, 2011 and encompass testimony from Congressional hearings, conversations with stakeholders from across Colorado and the West, and close collaboration with my colleagues on the Natural Resources Committee in order to protect state-recognized water rights,” said Tipton.  “Water is the lifeblood of the Western United States and all water users including grazers, ski areas, businesses, tribes and municipalities need certainty that all federal land management agencies, not just the Forest Service, are prohibited from future attempts to take privately-held water rights. The Water Rights Protection Act offers a sensible approach that preserves water rights for all water users and the ability to develop water requisite to living in the arid West. I thank my House colleagues for joining me today in passing this important bill, and urge our colleagues over in the Senate to take swift action to do the same.”

The final bill passed included two amendments that were agreed to on the floor (Tipton supported both):

  • Rep. Tipton (R-CO) Manager’s Amendment #12 – Clarifies that this bill in no way impacts implementation of the Endangered Species Act or federally reserved water rights for National Parks and other public lands, further ensuring continued safeguards for our natural environment.
  • Rep. Mullin (R-OK) Amendment #4 – Ensures continued protection of federally recognized Indian tribes’ reserved water rights and water rights guaranteed by treaty, and makes clear that the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture cannot extort water rights from sovereign Indian tribes.

Another amendment, offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), would have excluded grazers, municipalities and other water users, aside from ski areas, from the protections provided in the bill. This amendment was defeated on the House floor with bipartisan opposition.

Watch video of Tipton and Polis’s exchange on that amendment and H.R. 3189 in the House Rules Committee HERE.

Noteworthy quotes on H.R. 3189:

“On behalf of the people of Routt County, Colorado, we are hereby expressing our earnest support for H.R. 3189 aka the ‘Water Rights Protection Act.’ This is a timely and necessary piece of legislation. This bill represents no cost to the public and provides needed protection of lawfully held water rights.”—Routt County Board of County Commissioners, home of the Steamboat Springs ski area.

“H.R. 3189 is an important bill that protects the rights of federal agencies and all federal permit holders by reaffirming decades of federal and state law.”—American Farm Bureau Federation.

“In order to protect our members’ water rights, assure the continued delivery of clean water to millions of people and protect the integrity of western water law the NWRA supports the Water Rights Protection Act.”—National Water Resources Association.

“I want to express my genuine appreciation for you and your staff’s willingness to work with us on language that accomplishes our mutual goals of protecting private property interests in western water while maintaining the authority to condition permits to ensure responsible exercise of those rights.”— Colorado River District


The Water Rights Protection Act:

  • Prohibits federal land management 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; and
  • Has no cost to taxpayers.

Read more about the bill HERE.

Endorsements of H.R. 3189 to date (41): U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Ski Areas Association, American Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Family Farm Alliance, National Water Resources Association, Public Lands Council, National Association of Conservation Districts, Pacific Northwest Ski Area Association, California Ski Industry Association, Colorado Water Congress, Colorado Ski Country USA, Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Rio Grande Water Conservation District, Rio Grande Watershed Association of Conservation Districts, Montrose County Commissioners, Mesa County Commissioners, Montezuma County Commissioners, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Garfield County Commissioners, Conejos County Commissioners, Rio Blanco County Commissioners, San Luis Valley Commissioners, Gunnison County Commissioners, Rio Grande County Commissioners, Routt County Commissioners, Aspen Ski Company, Durango Mountain Resort, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Center Conservation District, the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, Colorado Association of Conservation Districts, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Douglas Creek Conservation District, White River Conservation District, Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and CLUB 20.