Clearing the…water on H.R. 3189

Photo by Dave Amirault
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Warning to readers!!! Only proceed if you want to enter the Wonk Room of federal water law. If this notion scares and shocks you, and you need to be revived with radical skiing and riding, please click here.  All others, hold on to something and keep reading….

Recently, there has been a lot of press coverage of the ski industry’s support for a bill that has made it through the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill tries to fix a Forest Service rule that would take away ski resort water rights. So far so good. We agree.  Unfortunately, as the bill moved through Congress, it picked up a variety of modifications that some in the environmental community object to. Fair enough. Our goal was to fix the Forest Service rule, not do anything else. To that end, we’d like to use this space to clarify our position on H.R. 3198. Here goes:

ASC strongly supports the core principle of the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3189) namely that the  Forest Service should not be able to take water rights away from ski resorts. Ski areas operating on federal lands have to buy water rights in the same way that they buy chairlifts, buildings and rental skis. The Forest Service rule would force resorts to transfer their water rights to the government.  That’s an unconstitutional taking of property without compensation; it’s simply unfair.

The Forest Service rule would force resorts to transfer their water rights to the government.  That’s an unconstitutional taking of property without compensation; it’s simply unfair. Photo by Dave Amirault

“The Forest Service rule would force resorts to transfer their water rights to the government. That’s an unconstitutional taking of property without compensation; it’s simply unfair.”
Photo by Dave Amirault

ASC supported the bill because we need to correct this egregious situation. Unfortunately, legislation was necessary to force the Forest Service to reconsider the rule. That said, we don’t think the bill should do more than fix that rule.  So we’re in favor of ongoing efforts to narrow and refine the legislation, including recent amendments clarifying that the bill would have no effect on implementation of the Endangered Species Act or the water rights of federally recognized Indian tribes.

We already support, are subject to, and abide by minimum stream flow regulations under state law, which this legislation does not alter.  We know that the separate subject of bypass flows is of great interest to a wide range of stakeholders and would support  clarification that the proposed legislation does not address or affect that issue.