Tipton Grills Interior Secretary on Blueways

Secretary says she is putting Blueways on hold, pledges to stand with Colorado in protecting state water rights

WASHINGTON—Today, during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing, Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) questioned Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on two issues with broad implications for Colorado—a potential endangered species designation of the Gunnison sage grouse and the Blueways Order.

Jewell’s predecessor, Secretary Ken Salazar, issued Secretarial Order 3321 establishing the National Blueways System.  This is a “source to mouth, watershed-wide” federal program about which little is known, and which has raised the fears of many local water conservation districts who are already doing an outstanding job of managing precious water supplies.

Many local water users fear that the National Blueways Order managed by a committee of federal bureaucrats will result in potential diversions of privately held water rights and the violation of state law, under which those rights are granted. Tipton has expressed numerous concerns with this in the past stating that, “This Order has the potential to further the Administration’s steady erosion of state water law, by inserting clunky federal regulatory authority over Western waterways, disregarding state water law, and casting aside a century of local conservation efforts to responsibly protect and manage our precious water supply.”

During her opening testimony Secretary Jewell stated that she would be putting Blueways on hold while she learned more about it.

Tipton asked Jewell if she finds a fundamental flaw in the Blueways program.

“I am just beginning to understanding what it is and I think there is still further definition. […] there’s clearly a lack of understanding and that’s why I put it on pause,” Jewell said.

Tipton followed up by asking if “Is it appropriate for non-local groups to be able to submit rivers for designation?” under Blueways.

“I don’t mind people submitting comments, when I tell you about local community input, I mean local communities. That’s where you want these things to come from. That’s my understanding of the program,” answered Jewell.

Tipton then asked the Secretary, “With the Blueways designation, with the state of Colorado as an example, you would support us in the position of being able to protect the private property rights—private property rights include water in the state of Colorado and for most of the west, also we have state laws, priority based systems. Will you stand with us to make sure those are protected?”

“Of course,” answered Jewell.

Watch their full exchange here. 

Tipton also asked the Secretary during the hearing if she would accept a recent invitation from him and Sens. Bennet and Udall to visit Colorado during the next six months to see the local Gunnison sage grouse conservation efforts that are taking place. The Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that it would delay making a determination on whether to designate the grouse as endangered for six months. Read more here.

Background:

In February, Tipton joined 22 of his colleagues in urging Secretary Salazar to withdraw the Blueways Order, writing, “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and it should be managed for the benefit of the community in a transparent fashion. […] Any designation by a federal agency that directly or indirectly attempts to manage the non-navigable headwaters of many of our nation’s rivers would be a usurpation of state authority.”

In June, Tipton again joined a number of his colleagues on the Natural Resources Committee in in a letter to Secretary Jewell regarding the National Blueways Order, requesting an explanation from Secretary Jewell for the lack of public process and expressing concern about the involvement of controversial Interior official Rebecca Wodder in promoting Blueways designations.