Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, joined Republican colleagues last week in sponsoring a bill to protect state’s water rights.
The Water Rights Protection Act, introduced by Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, aims to protect privately held water rights from federal takings and uphold long-standing state water law. Polis, as well as Reps. Tom McClintock R-California, and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, are original co-sponsors of the bill.
In recent years the federal government has repeatedly attempted to circumvent long-established state water law in order to hijack water rights, according to a joint news release. These efforts constitute a gross federal overreach and a violation of private property rights.
The U.S. Forest Service is currently pushing the federal government’s latest attempt to ignore state law and take private water rights, despite objections from elected officials, business owners, private property advocates and a U.S. District Court ruling.
The Water Rights Protection Act would protect communities, businesses, recreation opportunities, and farmers and ranchers, as well as other individuals that rely on privately held water rights for their livelihood from federal takings, the release stated. It would do so by prohibiting federal agencies from confiscating water rights through the use of permits, leases and other land management arrangements.
Most recently the forest service has attempted to implement a permit condition that requires 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 the rights, according to the release.
Additionally, federal land management agencies are taking private water users hostage to acquire additional water supplies for the federal government by requiring water users to apply for their rights under state law in the name of the United States rather than for themselves.
This agency permit condition has already had a negative impact on a number of stakeholders including the Powderhorn Ski Area in Grand Junction and the Breckenridge Ski Resort where, despite having been excellent stewards of the environment and their water rights, the forest service has demanded the relinquishment of state granted water rights in order to continue their operations, according to the release.
The same tactics have been used in attempts to hijack privately held water rights associated with agricultural production in America where farmers and ranchers rely on these rights to secure loans, as well as irrigate crops and livestock. 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.
“Long-held state water law protects the many uses vital to Colorado and western states — from recreation to irrigation, domestic use and environmental protection,” Tipton said in the release. “Unfortunately, all of this is being undermined by federal intrusion that creates uncertainty and jeopardizes the livelihoods of communities, individuals and businesses responsible for thousands of jobs.
“Our bill will restore needed certainty by ensuring that privately held water rights will be upheld and protect users from federal takings.”
The forest service claims that it is implementing the agency permit condition to prevent water rights from being sold off and used improperly, the release stated. U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell recently said there have never been any such cases where the rights have been used improperly.