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The Water Rights Protection Act is bad for rivers - Take Action!

Posted: 11/12/2013
By: Nathan Fey

Colorado - In Late September, Representatives Scott Tipton and Jared Polis introduced H.R. 3189 with the intent of resolving the conflicts between the US Forest Service and the Ski Industry over proposed water rights conditions being applied to ski area permits. A related bill has been intriduced into the Senate (S. 1630), by Sen. Barasso of Wyoming. The bills are written broadly and in our view have serious implications for water management across the country, and undermine all efforts to protect or restore our nations rivers and public lands. American Whitewater asks that you Take Action today by contacting the key decision-makers listed below, and make your opinions heard.

In our assessment, the Water Rights Protection Act will impede the Departments of Agriculture and Interior's statutory missions to provide for multiple uses, including recreation, under the Organic Administration Act and Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act (MUSYA).   The act will preclude releases from dams and reservoirs and bypass flows for endangered fish recovery programs, both of which are important to river health, provide paddling opportunities, and support a robust recreation economy across the entire country.

HR 3189 is a sneak attack designed to force federal agencies to put private uses of river water ahead of other beneficial public uses like fish, wildlife, and recreation. While the bill was ostensibly intended to address a narrow water rights conflict between Colorado's ski industry and the U.S. Forest Service, other interests – primarily big western agriculture, worked with these offices to draft a much more expansive bill that would handcuff the Departments of Interior and Agriculture and prevent them from protecting rivers and public lands.  The bill would prevent the Federal Government from conditioning any license, permit, or other approval of water use in such a manner as to “impair” any privately held water right. Incredibly, the House Natural Resources Committee chose to hold a hearing on the bill during the government shutdown. As a result, if the Committee marks up the bill this week, it will do so without the benefit of expert testimony from the impacted agencies, and Members of the Committee will be denied the opportunity to question witness from the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture about the effects this bill will have on their districts. 

The bill would prohibit agencies from protecting rivers and public lands. The so-called “Water Rights Protection Act” has broad and overreaching implications for water management that extend far beyond Colorado's Ski Industry. It would gut any federal law, such as the Endangered Species Act, that permits agencies to place conditions on permits or licenses that would keep water in rivers to support fish, wildlife, or instream recreation. It would also preempt state laws that allow Federal agencies to impose similar conditions. For instance, this could prohibit the Forest Service from requiring water diverters to leave some water in a stream on Forest Service land, or stop the Fish and Wildlife Service from requiring flows that attract fish to fish ladders so that they can safely pass over dams.

The so-called “Water Rights Protection Act” would allow private water users across the country to dry up rivers with impunity. H.R. 3189 represents an unduly broad and unnecessary attempt to tie the hands of Federal agencies to provide flexible water management options on our public lands If passed, the bill would prevent federal agencies from implementing reasonable safeguards to protect fish, wildlife, and recreational benefits in the nation’s rivers. Federal agencies would be unable to require the recipients of federal permits to keep water in rivers for aquatic species and recreation, protect water quality, or ensure safe and effective fish passage.

HR 3189 has been sent to the House Natural Resources sub-committee on Water and Power, which will decide whether the bill goes to the full House for a vote.  Representative Tom McClintock (R) of California is the chairman of this commmittee. American Whitewater urges you to voice your opinions on HR 3189 - TODAY!

Bill Sponsors:

Tipton, Scott [R- CO3]

Amodei, Mark [R-NV2]

Bishop, Rob [R-UT1]

McClintock, Tom (R-CA)

Polis, Jared [D-CO2]

Coffman, Mike [R-CO6]

Lummis, Cynthia [R-WY0]

Pearce, Stevan “Steve” [R-NM2]

Simpson, Michael “Mike” [R-ID2]

Matheson, Jim [D-UT4]

Stewart, Chris [R-UT2]

Chaffetz, Jason [R-UT3]

Cramer, Kevin [R-ND0]

Gosar, Paul [R-AZ4]



Colorado Stewardship Director

Nathan Fey

1601 Longs Peak Ave.

Longmont, CO 80501

Phone: 303-859-8601
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