Ski resorts get reprieve over water rights

DENVER - The U.S. Forest Service is surrendering in a fight about water rights for ski resorts.

The agency told Congress it no longer plans to force ski areas to turn over their water rights as a condition for maintaining their operating permits.

According to the Durango Herald, members of Congress want to make sure the decision sticks by giving initial approval to a bill  Thursday by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez,  that would bar the Forest Service from demanding that permit holders – from ski areas to ranchers – relinquish their water rights.

Dozens of resorts with permits to operate on national forests have bought or acquired rights to use nearby bodies of water for snowmaking.

The Forest Service adopted a clause that said those resorts had to transfer their water rights to the federal government, so that the water rights would stay with the land. It was worried the water rights could be sold to real estate developers or others not interested in using the water for skiing.

Tipton said he was encouraged by the change of heart at the Forest Service, but he still thinks his bill, H.R. 3189, is needed.

"This clause has yet to be seen, they have aggressively pursued such takings for over two years, and their comments indicate that we will likely only see a temporary fix for one group of water users in one region," Tipton said in a news release.