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April 16, 2015

Western Leaders Reintroduce Bill to Strike Back Against Federal Water Grabs

Widely supported bipartisan effort seeks to protect water users

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) reintroduced legislation to protect water users from uncompensated federal takings of privately-held water rights. The Water Rights Protection Act (WRPA), which passed the House in the 113th Congress with bipartisan support, would uphold state water law and priority-based systems. WRPA would provide water users with a line of defense from increasing federal attempts, such as the Forest Service Groundwater Management Directive and ski area permit clause, to take private water rights without compensation or restrict user access to them.

This week, Forest Service Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon affirmed comments made by U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in a February Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing distancing the Forest Service from its Groundwater Directive. Weldon’s testimony indicated that that the agency is for the time being holding off on the controversial directive, but intends to issue a new rule once gathering further input on the issue.

“Federal land agencies have absolutely no business strong-arming individuals or businesses into turning over their privately held water rights as a condition of obtaining or renewing a permit. Despite the Obama Administration’s recent attempt to downplay these outrageous water grabs, there is no guarantee that they won’t pursue policies like this again in the future,” said Barrasso. “Congress must provide clear legislative direction to federal land management agencies or they will continue to impose restrictions that deny agricultural, recreational and economic activity throughout our communities. Representative Tipton and I have teamed up with legislation to provide certainty to water users across the West and block any future attempts by Washington to take over private water rights.”

“The steady flow of federal agency actions to assert federal control over private water rights directly interferes with the ability of the American people to access their private property. These federal water grabs undermine the long-held state water law that protects the many uses vital to the Western US, create uncertainty, and jeopardize the livelihoods of communities, individuals, and businesses responsible for thousands of jobs,” said Tipton. “Senator Barrasso and I share a deep commitment with our colleagues to the defense of private water rights, and are dedicated to this cause of stopping nefarious federal overreach and restoring needed certainty to all water users by ensuring that all non-federal water rights are upheld.”

“The Water Rights Protection Act would stop the federal government from taking water rights, both surface and groundwater, from private parties in violation of state water law and 5th Amendment property rights protections. The intent of the bill is narrow –to protect valuable property interests of ski areas and other permittees that use federal land from seizure without compensation by the federal government,” wrote the National Ski Areas Association. “Essentially everyone agrees on the need for this protection, given past and current Forest Service policy that demands transfer of valuable water rights to the U.S. without compensation.”

“The U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies have begun to require privately owned businesses to surrender long-held water rights –which they have paid for and developed –as a condition of receiving renewals in their special use permits that allow them to operate on public land,” wrote the American Farm Bureau Federation in support of WRPA. “This kind of power grab by the federal government violates federal and state law and would ultimately upset water allocation systems and private property rights on which western economies have been built.”

The Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 1830):

  • Prohibits agencies from implementing a permit condition that requires the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government in order to receive or renew a permit for the use of land;
  • Prohibits the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from imposing other conditions that require the transfer of water rights without just compensation;
  • Upholds longstanding federal deference to state water law;
  • Maintains environmental safeguards, and will not impact Bureau of Reclamation water contracts in any way. Likewise, the legislation will have no impact any authority existing within a jurisdiction. These are outside the scope of the legislation.
  • Has no cost to taxpayers.

Original cosponsors include: Senate: Sens. Mike Crapo, Mike Enzi, Deb Fischer, Jeff Flake, Cory Gardner, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller and James Risch. House: Reps. Mark Amodei, Ken Buck, Jason Chaffetz, Mike Coffman, Trent Franks, Paul Gosar, Mike Kelly, Raul Labrador, Doug LaMalfa, Doug Lamborn, Mia Love, Cynthia Lummis, Tom McClintock, GT Thompson, Steve Pearce, Tom Reed, Reid Ribble, Mike Simpson, Lamar Smith, Chris Stewart, Bruce Westerman and Ryan Zinke.

Endorsement highlights in the 114th Congress include: National Ski Areas Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Family Farm Alliance, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Sheep Industry Association, CLUB 20, Colorado Wool Growers Association, State Farm Bureaus, and numerous additional state and local government and water conservation district endorsements. 


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