Tipton and Barrasso Reintroduce Water Rights Protection Act
Today, Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to protect water rights. Supported by Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, H.R. 1830 Water Rights Protection Act reinforces the limit to federal jurisdiction of water and provides a means to combat the Federal Government by way of the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management from seizing water rights without just compensation in exchange for land use permits.
The legislation comes as a result of directive by the Forest Service that allowed the agency to take water rights from private entities, despite private water development and property rights. Public Lands Council Executive Director Dustin Van Liew said ranchers are facing an unprecedented threat to the future of their water rights on federal lands managed by the USFS and potentially other federal agencies.
“The USFS directive and actions are an absolute infringement of private property rights. Many of our members hold private water rights on federal lands, which serve as an integral part of their operations,” said Van Liew. “With 40 percent of the western cow herd spending some time on public lands, the ability to have secure water rights is imperative to keeping our ranching families in business and our rural communities thriving.”
Although originally designed for the ski industry, Van Liew said this legislation sets an important precedent that will hold the federal government accountable.
“The livestock producers in the West face the same threats as ski companies do with more at stake as they are individuals and families depending on these water rights for their livelihood,” he said. “Rep. Tipton’s bill accomplishes the purpose of protecting all water right holders, including ranchers.”
The bill also addresses the Forest Service Groundwater Directive with language that would prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from asserting jurisdiction over groundwater that has been historically controlled by the states. PLC and NCBA submitted comments on the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed groundwater directive in September 2014 urging USFS to withdraw the directive on the basis that the agency lacks the legal authority to regulate groundwater.
WRPA passed the House last year, but stalled in the Senate. NCBA and PLC urge both Chambers to take up this legislation.