WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, is pushing for a bill that would prevent federal agencies from taking ski resorts’ water rights.
Tipton and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, have reintroduced a bill, the Water Rights Protection Act, to prohibit the U.S. Forest Service from implementing a permit condition that requires an exchange of water rights without compensation for the renewal of a land permit.
It passed the House last year with bipartisan support.
The two congressmen release a joint news release stating they “are dedicated to this cause of stopping nefarious federal overreach and restoring needed certainty to all water users by ensuring that all nonfederal water rights are upheld.”
Ski resorts have advocated for the bill to ensure protection because water is a valuable resource for snowmaking and ski operations.
“Without the water, we’re not in business,” Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President David Corbin testified in a House Natural Resources subcommittee on water and power in 2014.
In 2011, the Forest Service enacted the controversial rule to require ski resorts to transfer water rights to the federal government to prevent selling water rights instead of using the water for snowmaking and ski operations.
However, the National Ski Areas Association sued the Forest Service in 2014, and in late 2015 a federal judge overturned the new water rule.
Tipton agreed with the ruling and said it was a major victory for Western water users.
“State law and priority-based systems have ensured clean, safe and reliable water supplies for over a century in Colorado and the West, and today’s court ruling allows that to continue,” Tipton said at the time.
Liz Payne, Tipton’s spokeswoman, said while the ruling was encouraging, more steps are needed to stop intervention on private water rights.
“It is critical that the policy gets codified into law so a future administration doesn’t try to reinterpret the ruling and attempt to trample water rights again,” Payne said.
There are 116 ski areas using a total of more than 180,000 acres of lands managed by the Forest Service. The lands yield $26 million annually in revenues, according to the agency.
The Forest Service now requires resorts to prove there is enough water to support skiing through each permit term.
There may be reason to worry. A new study in the Water Resources Research journal released earlier this year suggested that future warming could cause the Colorado River’s flow to decline. The study projects a decline of about 17 percent by 2050 and by 25 to 35 percent by the end of the century.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, has cosponsored the bill; the office staff for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, office said the bill is under review.