Washington, DC- Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch introduced a bill today that gives the U.S. Forest Service authority to permit private land owners to repair and maintain existing water-diversion facilities within the Frank Church-River of No Return and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness areas.
The affected diversions provide water for a number of purposes, including drinking water for private cabins and ranches. In some cases their lack of maintenance threatens the environment and watersheds.
To qualify for the permits, diversions must have been in existence at the time of wilderness designation and the owner must hold a valid water right predating that designation. Additionally, the facilities must have been in continuous use and their relocation outside of the wilderness area is not practical.
"These common-sense technical adjustments are normal and vital corrections that result in providing a win-win for landowners and the Forest Service," Crapo said. "This action will not compromise continued use, wilderness values or the wilderness act. Allowing the Forest Service to provide permits for continued use as well as maintenance and repairs will be the correct path to resolving a lingering need."
"This legislation gives the Forest Service another tool to protect some of the most rugged and scenic parcels of lands in all of Idaho while balancing the rights of those who used the land before it became wilderness area," said Risch.
The bill, S. 2966, now moves to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on which Risch serves. A similar bill introduced by Congressmen Simpson and Minnick passed in the House earlier this week.