WASHINGTON — Third District Congressman Scott Tipton says his bill aimed at protecting privately held water rights is still needed, despite a statement from the U.S. Forest Service this week that it would end its practice of asking for water rights from ski areas in exchange for forest use permits.
The House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday approved the Colorado legislator’s Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3189) and forwarded the bill for a vote in the full House of Representatives.
On Wednesday, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell issued a statement saying his agency had agreed to a policy change, brokered with the help of U.S. Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, that would protect water resources without asking ski areas to turn over water rights to the federal government.
Tipton, R-Cortez, responded Thursday after the House committee vote that, while “encouraged” by Tidwell’s statement, it only affects one group of water users.
The water rights bill, which has bipartisan support, is meant to protect the rights of other users as well, including agricultural operations and energy development, according to Tipton and several supporters of the bill from western Colorado.
“While I am encouraged that the Forest Service acknowledged their flawed and unnecessary policy, and has indicated that their future water rights clause may no longer require the transfer of privately owned water rights, this clause has yet to be seen,” Tipton said in a Thursday press release.
“They have aggressively pursued such takings for over two years, and their comments indicate that we will likely only see a temporary fix for one group of water users in one region,” he said.
Tipton said other federal agencies have also used the practice of requiring the transfer of private water rights in exchange for permitting, amounting to a “taking,” he said.
His bill would prohibit future Forest Service officials and other agencies from changing policy as leadership changes, Tipton said.
The bill has been supported by the National Ski Areas Association and Colorado Ski Country USA, as well as one major Colorado ski resort owner, the Aspen Skiing Co.