The U.S. Forest Service surrendered this week in a fight about water rights.
The agency told Congress that it no longer plans to force ski areas to turn over their water rights as a condition for maintaining their operating permits.
Even so, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed a bill Thursday by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, that would forbid the Forest Service from demanding that permit holders – from ski areas to ranchers – relinquish their water rights.
Tipton said he was encouraged by the change of heart at the Forest Service, but he still thinks his bill, H.R. 3189, is needed.
“This clause has yet to be seen, they have aggressively pursued such takings for over two years, and their comments indicate that we will likely only see a temporary fix for one group of water users in one region,” Tipton said in a news release.
In a “statement for the record” to a U.S. House committee, the Forest Service said it would propose changes to its ski-area water policy that will allow it to ensure that the ski economy will remain healthy.
“We believe that these objectives can be met without requiring the transfer of privately owned water rights to the government,” the Forest Service statement said.
Udall said, “The Forest Service’s statement on these water rights is a victory for our state and our resort communities that depend on outdoor recreation, and it’s a victory I am proud to have fought for.”
Udall and his staff had several meetings with senior Forest Service officials during the last several months to explain the policy’s potential harm to Colorado, said Udall spokesman Mike Saccone.
The Forest Service has tried sporadically for years to get legal control over snowmaking water rights, because of worries the rights could be sold to real estate developers or others not interested in using the water for skiing.
A federal judge in Denver slapped down the Forest Service’s last attempt in 2012 to make a national ski water policy, but the agency’s attempts to give it another shot upset Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature and Congress.