Ranchers see relief in new water rights legislation
CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Colorado U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton reintroduced the Water Rights Protection Act offering ranchers hope they won’t have to choose between their privately held water rights and feeding their livestock. Colorado Farm Bureau supports this important bill that will prevent federal land managers from offering ranchers an ultimatum: Turn over your water rights or leave.
“Without water, ranchers in Colorado and throughout the West lose their ability to care for their livestock and for the land,” said Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau. “We are thankful to our policymakers who are fighting not only for the rights of our ranchers but for the success of the agriculture community as a whole. No citizen should be forced to relinquish private property in exchange for the ability to access public lands.”
CFB is also thankful to Sen. Cory Gardner for highlighting this important issue at the Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing, when he asked U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to guarantee ranchers would not be forced to give up their water rights in exchange for a grazing permit. Unable to give a guarantee, Tidwell intends to continue this practice in instances he deems necessary. CFB looks forward to working with Gardner and Tipton to fight for Colorado ranchers.
An executive order recently issued by the president, charges a newly created Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to ensure “‘water users’ private property rights are not encumbered when they attempt to secure permits to operate on public lands,” as one of its purposes. The Forest Service’s extortion of water rights from law-abiding citizens is not only unacceptable, but is a flagrant disregard for the Trump administration’s intent with the formation of this task force.
“It’s clear from his testimony that despite direction from the administration and a clear interest from congress to stop this practice, Chief Tidwell is still intent on abusing federal power to grab water from private citizens,” Shawcroft said.
The Forest Service’s history of requiring citizens to surrender their water rights as a condition of obtaining a new permit or renewing an old one, makes this legislation necessary. Requiring ranchers to make this choice is unacceptable, particularly when water has a history of use or clear ownership often times on private lands. CFB believes management of water has been and should remain under the jurisdiction of states, as they have the expertise and historical knowledge to manage this valuable natural resource.
The bill was introduced in the house and has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and in addition the Committee on Agriculture. ❖