Tipton Water Rights Protection Bill Gets Senate Sponsor

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced companion legislation to Congressman Tipton’s (R-CO) Water Rights Protection Act (H.R.3189) adding further momentum to the bipartisan effort to prevent federal agencies from requiring privately held water rights be turned over to the federal government.

Tipton introduced H.R. 3189, the Water Right Protection Act, in September with bipartisan support, and it has been endorsed by a broad coalition of local, state and national stakeholders.

“Federal attempts to undermine the long-held state water law that protects the many uses vital to Western States are creating uncertainty and jeopardizing the livelihoods of communities, individuals, and businesses responsible for thousands of jobs. It’s unacceptable that federal agencies are engaging in nefarious tactics to extort privately-held water rights,” said Rep. Tipton. “Senator Barrasso and I share a deep commitment to defending Western water rights, and I’m pleased to work with him to advance the bipartisan Water Rights Protection Act. The introduction of a Senate companion adds further momentum to our effort to protect users from federal takings and restore needed certainty by ensuring that all non-federal water rights are upheld.”

“Once again, Washington is attempting to take over Western water rights with another federal water power grab,” said Sen. Barrasso. “This time their tactics are basically extortion. The Administration is holding public land-use permits hostage in an attempt to acquire private water rights. Chicago-style politics aren’t welcome in the West and we won’t sit back and let Washington attempt to bully our farmers, ranchers and other multiple use permit holders. Congress needs to pass our bill immediately and prevent Washington from extorting Americans’ private water rights.”  

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.

Endorsements to date: National Ski Areas Association, American Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Family Farm Alliance, 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, Conejos County Commissioners, Gunnison County Commissioners, Rio Grande County Commissioners, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Garfield County Commissioners, Aspen Ski Company, Durango Mountain Resort, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Center Conservation District and Club 20.

Background:

The U.S. Forest Service is attempting to require the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition on National Forest System lands. There is no compensation for the transfer of these privately-held rights despite the fact that many stakeholders have invested millions of their own capital in developing them.

The Forest Service permit condition has already hurt a number of stakeholders in Colorado including the Powderhorn Ski Area in Grand Junction and the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Despite having been excellent stewards of the environment and their water rights, the Forest Service has demanded the relinquishment of state-granted water rights from these ski areas in order to continue their operations.

The same nefarious tactics have been used in Utah, Nevada, and other Western states where agencies have required surrender of possession of water rights in exchange for approving the conditional use of grazing allotments. This federal water grab has broad implications that have begun to extend beyond recreation and the farming and ranching community, and are now threatening municipalities and other businesses.

The Forest Service claims that it is implementing the agency permit condition to prevent water rights from being sold off and used improperly, however according Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, there have never been any such cases where the rights have been used improperly. In a November 2011 hearing, Tipton asked Tidwell if there were any examples of this occurring in the past, to which Tidwell responded with a resounding, “No.” Furthermore, it was shown that the language of the water clause offers no guarantee that the Forest Service could not divert water to other locations or direct water for another purpose altogether.

During a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation hearing on Threats, Intimidation and Bullying by Federal Land Managing Agencies, this week, witnesses testified that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has also attempted to take privately held water rights. Read more.