Washington, DC - Idaho Senator Jim Risch, along with a bipartisan group of western Senators, is urging the U.S. Forest Service to delay implementation of a policy that potentially changes the way water rights are determined for ski areas and other special use permit holders.
In a letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Risch, Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said the significant changes between the previous water clause and the new version is raising concerns for ski areas. Of particular note is the complexity of the new clause and the uncertainty as to how it will be applied on the ground. Some ski operators have said the changes go so far as to require them to transfer their water rights to the federal government.
"The West has a long and established history of balancing water rights. Any new policy or directive impacting those rights needs to be carefully studied and understood before going on the books or it threatens that system," said Risch. "Any potential for a state to lose their rights to any water within their borders is something we all take very seriously."
"All water rights owners, not just ski areas, should be concerned about this unsettling precedent. Because of the significant percentage of water that originates on National Forest System lands, this change in water policy poses a threat to the current system of state allocation and administration of water rights," said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Area Association. "This issue is larger than just ski areas – it would impact all entities that have water rights associated with any National Forest System lands including cities and counties, owners of recreation residences, marinas and summer resorts and other businesses such as ranching, mining or utilities."
In the letter the senators also point out the importance of the ski industry in their respective states and the value the public places on recreational activities in the National Forests.
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