Senators introduce Bill to protect private water rights
Bill upholds state water law and prevents the federal government from requiring the transfer of privately held water rights as a condition for land use permits
by U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi
November 3, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On October 31st, U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi both (R-WY) introduced legislation to prevent federal agencies from requiring privately held water rights be turned over to the federal government.
"Once again, Washington is attempting to take over western water rights with another federal water power grab," said Sen. Barrasso. "This time their tactics are basically extortion. The Administration is holding public land-use permits hostage in an attempt to acquire private water rights. Chicago-style politics aren’t welcome in the West and we won’t sit back and let Washington attempt to bully our farmers, ranchers and other multiple use permit holders. Congress needs to pass our bill immediately and prevent Washington from extorting Americans’ private water rights."
"For hundreds of years people in Wyoming and the West have fought over it. Those who control it, control the means to live. Few things are more precious and now the federal government is bullying people into turning their water rights over to Uncle Sam. I’m proud to join Senator Barrasso in introducing this legislation which would put a stop to this abuse of power," said Sen. Enzi.
Over the past few years the U.S. Forest Service has attempted to require multiple use permit holders to turn over their privately owned water rights to the federal government as a condition of their permit renewal.
The Water Rights Protection Act specifically prohibits the Secretary of the Interior and the 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.
In addition to Barrasso and Enzi, Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Mike Lee (R-UT) are co-sponsors of the Water Rights Protection Act.
Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO) introduced the Water Rights Protection Act in the House of Representatives on September 26, 2013 with Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) as a co-sponsor.
In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service (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 (BLM) 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 protects privately held water rights, prohibits federal takings, and upholds state water law by:
• 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.