House votes to cut tie between water rights and Forest Service permits – The Denver Post

The Water Rights Protection Act passed through the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday along a mostly party-line vote. The bill prevents federal agencies from securing privately obtained water rights as a condition of leasing public land.

Offered by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, the measure prohibits the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture from requiring the transfer of acquired water rights to the federal government as part of permits to use federal property.

The bill was spawned by the ski industry, which sued the Forest Service when it initiated a water clause requiring resort operators to transfer water rights as part of a ski area permit.

Conservation groups argued that the bill was too broad and could impact recreational by-flow agreements that add water to river flows for recreational and environmental issues.

House Democrats on Thursday argued that the bill could hinder federal land managers’ ability to allow and restrict water use on federal land, which could allow private water users to drain essential flows from rivers and streams.

Tipton applauded the House’s 238-174 vote on the bill and urged Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, to support the bill as it moves to the Senate.

Tipton repeated the mantra of Colorado and the West: “Water is our lifeblood.”

“This is something we need to protect. We need to make sure our state law is protected,” he said. “This is not a partisan, political issue.”

Tipton, who celebrated the inclusion of agricultural and municipal water interests in his bill, said the Forest Service rule lacked certainty.

“This bill provides a certainty for something we all thought we could count on and that is the private-property right of water in our state, our state law and our priority-based system,” he said.

via House votes to cut tie between water rights and Forest Service permits – The Denver Post.

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