Federal court ruling sends agency back to the drawing board
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — After being rebuffed in federal court, the U.S. Forest Service will start anew at developing new water-rights language for ski area permits. The agency plans to start taking public input this spring on the new directive, which would clarify ownership of water rights on national forest lands.
The Forest Service most recently issued a new water rights directive in Dec. 2012, aiming to establish that certain water rights have to remain linked with the ski areas where the water is used to ensure the long-term sustainability of the resorts.
The ski industry interpreted at least parts of the new directive as a direct grab of water rights that are properly administered under state water law. A year-long lawsuit ended in Dec. 2012 with a court telling the Forest Service it must use a public process to develop a new directive.
“The agency’s announcement and the agency’s recent policy that was struck down in federal court both assume that water should run with the land. This approach reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of water law in the West,” said Geraldine Link, public policy director for the National Ski Areas Association.
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