The Water Rights Protection Act in the 116th Congress
Congressman Scott Tipton (CO-03) reintroduced the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 579) on January 15, 2019. The bill would uphold federal deference to state water law and prevent federal takings of privately held water rights.
Tipton introduced the first version of the Water Rights Protection Act in the 113th Congress in response to the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) 2011 and 2012 ski area permit clauses, under which the agency was attempting to require the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition for ski areas operating on federal land. The Powderhorn Ski Area and Breckenridge Ski Resort had been impacted by the permit clauses. The Water Rights Protection Act would prohibit any federal agency from requiring the transfer of privately-held water rights as a permit condition
In 2014, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) proposed the Groundwater Resource Management Directive, which gave the federal government jurisdiction over groundwater in a manner that was inconsistent with long-established state water law. The USFS has since withdrawn the measure, but it has indicated a desire to issue a revised directive in the future. The Water Rights Protection Act would require any future USFS directives to be consistent with state water law.
The Water Rights Protection Act passed out of the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in both the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses.
What they're saying:
“In recent years, the federal government has repeatedly attempted to circumvent long-established state water law by requiring the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition for use of land owned by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. These efforts constitute a gross federal overreach and violation of private property rights. My bill provides permanent protections for ski areas, farmers, ranchers, and others in the West. Water is the most precious resource we have in the arid West, and how we manage and protect our water supply has implications on everything from growing crops to managing wildlife habitats. The Water Rights Protection Act is a sensible approach that would preserve the water rights of all water users and provide certainty that the federal government cannot take their rights in the future." - Scott Tipton
“Unfortunately, it seems that these federal tactics have little to do with conservation and everything to do with big government and control… This legislation represents an important and necessary step in protecting private property rights and upholding long-established water law by prohibiting federal agencies from extorting water rights through the use of permits, leases and other land management arrangements. Further, the legislation recognizes the ability of states to confer water rights, and acknowledges that the federal government will respect those lawfully acquired rights, assuring that valid holders of water rights under state law cannot have those rights diminished or otherwise jeopardized " - Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation
“While the ski industry fully supports the current water clause, we also see the need for long term protection of water rights through federal legislation. Policies can change from administration to administration, and a statutory provision will provide us more certainty in the long term by prohibiting future takings of water as a permit condition and underscoring the importance of respecting state law. The proposed Water Rights Protection Act will provide needed statutory “sideboards” in protection of our water rights and the stability we need to grow and succeed in the future.” – Kelly Pawlaw, President of the National Ski Areas Association
“The Water Rights Protection Act would affirm and maintain the ability of the states to protect and implement water rights procedures that provide the most benefit for the state and the Inter-Mountain West regions. By allowing the State of Colorado to remain in exclusive control of the water rights development, control, permitting, and other fundamental processes in allocating water, you further strengthen the existing infrastructure that continues to drive water use, development and protection in the State of Colorado.” – Colorado Water Congress
Support for the Water Rights Protection Act
Updates on the Water Rights Protection Act
- January 15, 2019: Tipton Introduces Bills to Protect Western Water and Private Property Rights in the 116th Congress