Farmers, ranchers call for action on water rights bill


Dec. 4, 2013—Farmers and ranchers are urging House members to act soon on a bill that recognizes states’ long-standing authority to confer water rights and retains the position that the federal government will respect those lawfully acquired rights.  The legislation, the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3189), was recently approved by the House Natural Resources Committee and is ready to be taken up on the House floor.    

The legislation “does not expand rights for individuals at the expense of any federal agency, nor does it in any way limit or constrain existing rights held by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman noted in a letter to House Resources Committee members.    

In protecting privately held water rights, prohibiting federal takings and upholding state water law, the bill would prohibit agencies within USDA and the Department of the Interior from imposing conditions through the permit process that would require the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government in order to receive or renew the federal permit for the use of land.  It also would prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from requiring water users to acquire rights for the United States rather than for the water user themselves.    

The bill was drafted in response to the USFS’ attempt to implement a water clause for ski area permit holders that required ski areas to turn over privately-held water rights without compensation in order to receive a renewed USFS land permit.  USFS first tried to put the water clause in place in 2011, but in December 2012 a federal district court in Colorado struck it down.  

Now, according to Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), one of the bill’s sponsors, the USFS is again trying to push this policy through a revised water clause.  Farmers and ranchers are worried that if the USFS is allowed to move forward, it will open the door for other federal agencies like the BLM to implement a similar policy for grazing permits and other multiple-use activities that require a federal land use permit and involves the use of water.     

At an October hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, Utah Farm Bureau CEO Randy Parker testified on AFBF’s behalf in favor of the bill, saying continued state control of water rights is critically important to farmers and ranchers.

“Farm Bureau supports H.R. 3189, the Water Rights Protection Act, because it is designed to dispel uncertainty and recognizes state sovereignty and historic water law,” said Parker. Further, he explained, H.R. 3189 recognizes states’ sovereign water rights and protects livestock water rights from illegal federal claims and takings. 

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