Water Rights Protection Act PASSES
Created by rrummel on 3/24/2014 1:29:52 PM

Farm Bureau Cheers U-S House Passage

The House of Representativeslast week approved Farm Bureau-supported legislation (H.R. 3189) thatrecognizes states' long-standing authority to confer water rights and retainsthe position that the federal government will respect those lawfully acquiredrights. 

"The Water RightsProtection Act does not expand rights for individuals at the expense of anyfederal agency, nor does it in any way limit or constrain existing rights heldby the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management," noted RyanYates, American Farm Bureau Federation water rights specialist.

In protecting privately heldwater rights, prohibiting federal takings and upholding state water law, thebill would prohibit agencies within USDA and the Department of the Interiorfrom imposing conditions through the permit process that would require thetransfer of privately held water rights to the federal government in order toreceive or renew the federal permit for the use of land.  It alsowould prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculturefrom requiring water users to acquire rights for the United States rather thanfor the water users themselves. 

The bill protects water usersby prohibiting federal agencies from extorting water rights through the use ofpermits, leases and other land management arrangements, for which the federalgovernment would otherwise have to pay just compensation under the FifthAmendment of the Constitution.  

During debate on the bill,lawmakers rejected a Farm Bureau-opposed amendment to the legislation. Introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the amendment was in direct contrastto the original intent of the legislation, which is to assure that existingstate and federal laws are respected.  Instead, according to Farm Bureau,the Polis proposal would have treated owners of state water rights in anunequal, unprecedented fashion.

"It would carve outcertain protections for one class of user while explicitly excludingothers-even though the second group has an equally legitimate right toprotection under the law," American Farm Bureau Federation President BobStallman wrote in a letter to House lawmakers.  "There is no soundbasis for supporting such an approach, and we urge all members to vote againstthis harmful amendment." 

The Water Rights ProtectionAct was drafted in response to the USFS' attempt to implement a water clausefor ski area permit holders that required ski areas to turn over privately-heldwater rights without compensation in order to receive a renewed USFS landpermit.  USFS first tried to put the water clause in place in 2011, but inDecember 2012 a federal district court in Colorado struck it down.

Now, according to Sen. MikeCrapo (R-Idaho), a sponsor of the Senate companion bill, USFS is again tryingto push this policy through a revised water clause.  Farmers and ranchersare worried that if the USFS is allowed to move forward, it will open the doorfor other federal agencies like the BLM to implement a similar policy forgrazing permits and other multiple-use activities that require a federal landuse permit and involves the use of water.

At an October 2013 hearingbefore the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, Utah FarmBureau CEO Randy Parker testified on AFBF's behalf in favor of the bill, sayingcontinued state control of water rights is critically important to farmers andranchers.

"Farm Bureau supportsH.R. 3189, the Water Rights Protection Act, because it is designed to dispeluncertainty and recognizes state sovereignty and historic water law," saidParker. Further, he explained, H.R. 3189 recognizes states' sovereign waterrights and protects livestock water rights from illegal federal claims andtakings.