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“Water Rights Protection Act” is Grave Threat to America’s Rivers

November 13, 2013
For Immediate Release
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado River Campaign, 970-218-8310
Matt Rice, American Rivers, 803-422-5244

“Water Rights Protection Act” is Grave Threat to America’s Rivers

Denver, CO:  Today, conservation groups with broad constituencies throughout the United States have taken a strong position against a bill in the U.S. House and Senate
named the “Water Rights Protection Act.”  The bill, introduced by Reps. Scott Tipton and Jared Polis and Senator John Barasso, is H.R. 3189 (here) in the U.S. House and S. 1630 in the U.S. Senate. The bill’s stated intent is to facilitate U.S. Forest Service cooperation with the Colorado ski industry to resolve concerns about ski area water rights.  However, the bill’s impact would go well beyond that, with devastating results.  The bill would basically bar the Departments of Interior and Agriculture from using their authorities to protect and restore rivers during all types of federal permitting and management processes.

While the bill is scheduled to be marked up in the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, November 14, 2013, a hearing for the bill actually occurred during the government shutdown, timed so that the affected federal agencies could not provide testimony.  Today, just a day before markup, the U.S. Forest Service sent a letter to the Committee with its comments (here) in which the Forest Service states: “…the Department believes H.R. 3189 is unnecessary.” The Forest Service’s comments go on to detail further serious concerns about the bill.  Additionally, the Department of Interior also sent a letter saying, “The legislation is overly broad and could have numerous unintended consequences that could affect existing law and voluntary agreements.” (letter here)

“We certainly support the ski industry’s need to find a workable solution for their water rights concerns, but we strongly oppose the current language,” said Gary Wockner of the Save The Colorado River Campaign.  “This bill would gut the federal government’s ability to protect and restore rivers across the Colorado River basin, including those from which water is diverted to support skiing.”

“The bill would force federal agencies to put private uses of river water ahead of other beneficial public uses like fish, wildlife, and recreation,” said Matt Rice, Colorado River Director for D.C.-based American Rivers. “The ski industry needs to change direction – this bill undercuts other recreational and environmental uses and if enacted would permanently impair the public’s waterways.”

Conservation and recreation groups are asking the Natural Resources Committee not to markup the bill, but instead to hold a full and complete hearing where federal agencies and members of the public are allowed to testify to the negative impacts this bill would have on America’s waterways.

–end–

Save The Colorado is a project of Clean Water Action for this effort.

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