Current Edition

current edition

Keep Ear to Washington, D.C.

 As usual, we don’t hear much good coming out of Washington D.C. It’s kind of like being in the middle of a hard winter – at the end of each day, you are one day closer to spring. Well, at the end of each day in the political world, we are one day closer to the next presidential election. We can only hope.

Besides the Grazing Improvement Act, there are other issues public land producers need to watch and comment on to your congressional delegation or ag and livestock organizations along with the State Grazing Board. 

The Water Protection Act, H.R. 3189, sponsored by Representative Scott Tipton, (R-Colo.), has cleared the House Natural Resources Committee  with bipartisan support. This bill came about because, over the years, the Forest Service has engaged in numerous attempts to require the transfer of privately held water rights as a permit condition, amounting to an outright federal taking. It really started in Colorado where the Forest Service was trying to take over the water rights of the ski areas. The National Ski Areas Association looked to other public land users for help and found it in livestock producers and national livestock associations, as well as support from other local, state and national stakeholders. 

In the last 10 years, the Forest Service has changed their water policy four times. 

Tipton said, “Water users need certainty that all federal land management agencies, not just the Forest Service, are prohibited from future attempts to take privately held water rights. Additionally H.R. 3189 would prohibit future Forest Service officials from shifting course and engaging in similar water grabs in the future.” 

A companion bill, S. 1630, is being carried in the Senate by our Senator Barrasso.

If passed, these bills would prohibit agencies from implementing a permit condition that requires the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government to receive or renew a permit for the use of land; prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from imposing other conditions that require the transfer of water rights without just compensation; and uphold longstanding federal deference to state water law. All of these requirements would have no cost to taxpayers.

So, what does the environmental community say in opposition? A statement by American Rivers last week headlined, “Water rights bill snowballs into disaster for anglers and public lands.” Now, I don’t have anything against fishermen, but as you know in Wyoming, we all have to share the waters of the state for all users. Irrigation is a beneficial use, and it sustains fisheries.

The statement went on to say, “The ski industry’s bill would allow private water users to dry up rivers on public lands with impunity. It would tie the hands of the federal agencies tasked with providing flexible water management options on our public lands. If passed, the bill would prevent federal agencies from implementing reasonable safeguards to protect fish, wildlife and recreation benefits in the nation’s rivers. It would gut any federal law, such as the Endangered Species Act.” 

I can’t think of better reasons to pass the law. Can you? Maybe we just need to buy the Forest Service some whiskey to fight over, so we can keep using our water.