The House Committee on Natural Resources Thursday approved with a 19-14 vote a water rights protection act that some groups say will protect ranchers' private water rights from U.S. Forest Service seizure.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council explain that the bill will end USFS' action in obtaining water rights for the federal government as a condition of issuing standard land use permits. USFS has failed to provide just compensation, the groups say, calling the action "a violation of the Fifth Amendment."
Brice Lee, President of the PLC and supporter of the legislation, says it will allow farmers and ranchers to remain in business.
"The directive and actions by the Forest Service and their attempt to unjustly acquire these rights amounts to a total negligence of states' water law, private property rights, and the Constitution," Lee said in a statement, calling the committee passage promising.
"We are urging the House to take the bill to the floor and stop the USFS directive in its infancy," he said.
Last month, the Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on the bill, inviting a panel of witnesses who testified to the importance of water rights to private business.
Witnesses told the subcommittee about potential impacts of this directive on industries such as ski companies and federal land ranching, stressing the importance of these water rights and their significance in keeping businesses viable in western communities, PLC said.
"This legislation is urgent and the committee's hearing sends an important message to the USFS — holding them accountable and ensuring they cannot abuse water-right holders any further," said Scott George, NCBA President. "Ultimately, the USFS directive and similar actions could put a lot of folks out of business."
The bill was introduced in October by Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and co-sponsors Mark Amodei, R-Nev., Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Tom McClintock, R-Calif. and Jared Polis, D-Colo.
News source: PLC