It was one of the biggest water rights fights in years, but when the U.S. Forest Service announced in mid-November that it was ending its pursuit forcing Colorado ski lodges to give up their water rights, agriculture rejoiced.
"This is a huge win for farmers and ranchers and success for the Colorado Farm Bureau, which has fought to protect those rights for more than two years," says CFB President Don Shawcroft.
"We are pleased to learn that the Forest Service no longer intends to infringe on the property rights of ski areas, which are a huge economic driver in Colorado," he adds.
The decision will be beneficial for millions of Colorado residents, says Shawcroft.
The decision represents a big win for private property owners in Colorado, where the bureau feared that if cut-offs were possible for ski areas, it would only be a matter of time until the USFS did the same for farmers and ranchers who use Forest Service lands.
Members of Congress are working on legislation that would not allow the USFS to reverse its Nov. 13 decision. HR 3189, the Water Rights Protection Act, is a bill demanding that permit holders, including ski lodge owners and ag producers, be protected from further water threats from USFS.
Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton introduced the measure in September and received strong support from a broad coalition of local, state and national stakeholders, and a companion bill is being carried in the Senate by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso.
The Act does the following:
- Prohibits agencies from implementing a permit condition requiring transfer of private water rights to the federal government.
- Prohibits the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture from imposing other conditions requiring such transfers
- Upholds existing federal deference to state water law
- Has no cost to taxpayers.
"We believe that this bill will protect not only ski areas, but Colorado's farmers and ranchers from requirements that would infringe on their private property rights," notes Shawcroft.