Ski areas get formidable allies in water-rights fight with Forest Service

A flurry of recent briefs in the water rights fight between ski areas on public land their Forest Service landlord indicates the National Ski Areas Association is amassing formidable allies for the battle.

The Colorado Petroleum Association and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association this week filed amicus briefs supporting the NSAA, which is contesting a new Forest Service directive that requires resorts operating under a Forest Service permit on public lands to convey water rights to the federal government. Colorado ski areas are vehemently opposed to the new permitting clause, arguing that the Forest Service could use the water rights for other purposes away from the ski resort and could hinder the selling and trading of a valuable commodity.

The NSAA sued the Forest Service in January, arguing the new water permit clause was “a stunning and unprecedented directive” designed to “control and seize privately owned water rights acquired and used under state law.”

This week the state’s oil and gas industry weighed in with amicus briefs, asking the federal court to consider the ramifications beyond ski resorts.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association expressed concern “that the Forest Service’s grab for state-granted water rights may interfere with its members’ ability to operate on Forest Service lands.” The Colorado Petroleum Association contends that the “clause would significantly impact oil and gas operations on Forest Service lands.”

The Colorado River Water Conservation District, Ute Water Conservancy District, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Clinton Ditch Reservoir Company and Eagle Park Reservoir also filed a joint amicus brief, supporting the NSAA’s contention that the Forest Service is overstepping its bounds in trying to control state-regulated and privately acquired water rights.

Reads the water coalition’s amicus brief: “Collectively, the amicus parties have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and maintain their water facilities and associated water rights, and have secured all necessary local, state and federal permits for their existing water facilities. Some of the amicus parties are also seeking new federal permits for future facilities. The amicus parties believe that this case is extremely important from a precedential standpoint because water rights are an extremely valuable property right that cannot be replicated, and the Forest Service does not have the legal authority to take privately owned water rights without just compensation.”

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