Bill to prevent agencies from taking private water rights as condition of land use permit
Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson has cosponsored legislation to ensure that the federal government can’t hold private water rights hostage as a condition for a land use permit. H.R. 3189, the Water Rights Protection Act, prohibits agencies from requiring the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government in order to obtain a permit to use federal land. Simpson, who oversees the budget of the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service as chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, included a similar provision in the House Interior Appropriations bill for FY14.
“In the West, we know water is the key to our economy, and threatening water rights is tantamount to an attack on our way of life,” said Simpson. “It is ridiculous that the Forest Service, or any other agency, would try and force someone to hand over privately held water rights—which are regulated by the state and not the federal government—in order to obtain a land use permit.”
States have jurisdiction over water rights. Unfortunately, in a number of cases, the U.S. Forest Service has attempted to circumvent state water law by requiring those applying for a Forest Service permit to turn over privately held water rights to the federal government. H.R. 3189 would prohibit federal water takings and protect both privately held water rights and state water laws.
“If there was ever an argument for the supremacy of state water law, this is it,” said Simpson. “When we’re dealing with an issue that is so central to our economy and way of life, it is crucial that state and local officials—those who are familiar with the people and local issues—are the ones to make decisions about how water is used. No federal agency should be able to hijack water rights as a condition for issuing a permit. This legislation makes it clear that the government cannot conduct business in this manner.”
H.R. 3189 is currently under consideration by the House Agriculture Committee.