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Forest Service, ski industry tussle over water rights

A long-running battle over control of water rights at federally permitted ski areas is heating up again.

National Ski Areas Association charges Forest Service with ‘takings’

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A decades-old water-rights struggle between the U.S. Forest and the ski industry flared up again this week, as the National Ski Areas Association charged that the agency wants to make an end run around state law and “take away” water rights worth tens of millions of dollars.

The accusations came during a Nov. 15 hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, as Boulder attorney Glenn Porzak testified on behalf of the ski industry, asking Congress to intervene in the matter. Porzak’s written statement is online here.

“All water rights owners should be concerned,” Porzak said, claiming that the change would require ski areas to transfer ownership of several types of water rights to the Forest Service.

“Ski areas would lose the ability to control future use of those water rights … they would have no guarantee on future use,” Porzak said, explaining that ski areas collectively have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in water rights used for snowmaking, lodging, restrooms, culinary purposes and irrigation.

At issue is a water-rights clause in the standard ski area permit that specifies who owns the water flowing down from public national forest system lands both within and outside ski area boundaries. The current language has been in place since 2004 and the ski industry says it’s been working well. Continue reading

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