Legislation would prohibit federal agencies from requiring the transfer of privately held water rights as a condition for land use permits
Washington, D.C. -The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has recently enacted policies requiring multiple use permit holders to turn over their privately-owned water rights to the federal government as a condition of their permit renewal. Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, along with other western colleagues, are sponsoring a measure led by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) to prevent federal agencies from requiring the transfer of privately-held water rightsto the federal government.
"Recently, federal agencies have begun to violate and undermine state water laws throughout western states, including Idaho," said Crapo. "This power-grab by the administration to hold public land-use permits hostage is threatening our local communities and could very well set a precedent that could spread to other land-industry sectors, such as agriculture. The private water rights of our western states must be upheld before long-standing businesses are put in serious jeopardy."
The Water Rights Protection Act specifically prohibits the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from requiring the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government as a condition of a special use permit, lease or other land use arrangement. Representative Scott Tipton (R-Colorado) introduced the Water Rights Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on September 26, 2013.
In addition to Senators Crapo and Barrasso, Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nevada) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) are co-sponsors of the Water Rights Protection Act.
In 2011, the USFS attempted to implement a water clause for ski area permit holders that required ski areas to turn over privately-held water rights without compensation in order to receive a renewed USFS land permit. On December 19, 2012, a federal district court in Colorado struck down the USFS's water clause.
Now, the USFS is trying once again to implement this controversial policy through a revised water clause. If the USFS is allowed to move forward with this policy, it will open the door for other federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management to implement a similar policy for grazing permits and other multiple use activity that requires a federal land use permit and involves the use of water.
The Water Rights Protection Act protectsprivately held water rights, prohibits federal takings, and upholds state water law:
· Prohibiting 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;
· Prohibiting the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from requiring water users to acquire rights for the United States rather than for the water user themselves;
· Upholding longstanding federal deference to state water law.