National Ski Areas Association promises lawsuit over USFS rule intended to keep water rights with the land on ski hills

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From ESPN (Jason Blevins):

After intense lobbying — which included stern letters from a host of congressman and senators — last week the Forest Service rebuffed the calls for a moratorium and issued the new rule as an 18-month moratorium. The resort industry, led by the 121-resort National Ski Areas Association, answered with a promise to sue the agency, which hosts nearly 90 percent of all U.S. ski areas.

“This has to do with water rights in general and how water rights are treated,” said Michael Berry, president of the NSAA. “We believe they have crossed the rubicon and this has the potential to be very, very impactful. We have no guarantee that they will continue to use the water for purposes of ski area business.”

Since 2004, the Forest Service has co-owned water rights secured by ski areas operating on federal land. Before that, under the 1986 National Forest Ski Area Permit Act, ski area water rights on public land were owned by the federal government. So really, said Jim Pena, acting chief of the Forest Service, “this isn’t new.”

“This permit clause is intended to clarify some of the gray areas,” Pena said. “This was a result of lots of discussion with the ski industry over the last year. This requires that water rights on National Forest System land remain with the federal government so we don’t sever that resource from the land.”[...]

Pena said his agency has already issued three new operator permits — in Colorado, Washington and California — with the new clause and those were accepted without any problems. “If a permittee develops water for the activity on (state) public land, they are required to develop that water in the name of the state. It’s the same with National Parks and the Fish and Wildlife Service as well,” Pena said. “It all goes back to wanting to make sure those public resources are kept together and we want to provide that stability for the long term.”

More coverage from Katie Klingsporn writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

The NSAA represents hundreds of ski areas across North America, Telluride Ski Resort among them…

“Water rights in the West are part of the asset base of the ski areas that they have acquired in the marketplace and they are an important part of the balance sheet of a ski area,” Association president Michael Berry told the AP.

The Telluride Ski Resort operates under a permit from the USFS, but it currently has a 40-year permit and so is not in imminent danger of the effects of the USFS clause, said Dave Riley, CEO of Telluride Ski & Golf (Telski).

However, Riley said Telski supports NSAA’s efforts to reverse the measure…

Pena said the clause, issued as an interim directive, can be adjusted before it’s finalized and the Forest Service would work with permit holders to ensure it “works for everybody.”

Berry wasn’t persuaded.

“We have no guarantee that they will continue to use the water for purposes of ski area business,” he said. “The government could decide to use the water and apply it to other uses or even sell it to urban water systems.

More water law coverage here.

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