Judge orders Forest Service to go back to the drawing board on developing permit language to govern water originating on national forest lands
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — A long-running dispute over water rights at ski areas operating on public land was resolved — at least temporarily — this week, as Federal District Court Judge William Martinez ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated its own regulations and other federal laws when it adopted a new water rights clause to be added to ski area permits.
Martinez stayed away from the takings issue raised by the ski industry, but slammed the Forest Service for issuing a new rule without providing a chance for formal input and public comment. Read the ruling here.
He vacated the water rights clause, enjoined the Forest Service from enforcing it and remanded the matter back to the agency for further action to be guided by the court ruling. Specifically, Martinez said the Forest Service failed to develop the new water rights clause under formal public processes required under federal regulations.
He also ruled that the Forest Service violated federal regulations because the agency did not evaluate the economic costs of forcing some smaller ski areas to to assign their water rights to the Forest Service without compensation.
“Given how critical and valuable water is to ski area operations, we are pleased that the court has stopped this unreasonable and unlawful policy in its tracks,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “We look forward to working in cooperation with the Forest Service to develop a water policy in the future that respects property rights and state water law.” Continue reading “Ski industry wins water rights lawsuit against Forest Service”