WASHINGTON — Congressman Scott Tipton’s (CO-03) bill to protect privately held water rights and uphold state water law passed the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Gaining Responsibility On Water (GROW) Act of 2017 (H.R. 23) on Wednesday.
Tipton’s bill, the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 2939), recently passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support. The GROW Act passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 230-190.
“Federal attempts to manipulate federal permit, lease, and land management processes to circumvent long-established state water law and hijack privately-held water rights have sounded the alarm for non-federal water users. These attempts have been nothing more than an effort to further federalize water resources, erode state authority, and pave the way for unilateral mandates on state water resources,” Tipton said.
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 The USFS has since withdrawn the measure, but it has indicated a desire to issue a revised directive in the future.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.
Additionally, the Bureau of Land Management has attempted to require farmers and ranchers across the West to turn over their privately-held water rights in order to renew their grazing and agriculture permits. United States Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell could not guarantee U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) that farmers and ranchers would not be required to turn over their water rights in order to renew their land use permits in a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 15, 2017.
“Short of legislation codifying long-held state water law and priority-based systems, and to prohibit uncompensated takings, the federal government can continue its attempts to take water rights or restrict water users from accessing them. Water is the most precious resource we have in the arid west, and I’m glad that so many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle recognize the importance of providing western water users with permanent protections from federal overreach,” Tipton added.
In the 115th Congress, the Water Rights Protection Act received support from numerous groups such as the National Water Resources Association, Colorado Water Congress, National Ski Areas Association and these from the San Luis Valley:
Conejos County Board of County Commissioners
San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District
Rio Grande Water Conservation District
San Luis Valley Irrigation District