Utah Farm Bureau to Congress: Stop federal agencies from usurping states’ water rights
Washington-New federal regulations are soaking up states' authority over natural resources and hurting hard working farming and ranching families, Utah Farm Bureau CEO Randy Parker recently told the House Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Water and Power.
Parker specifically addressed the U.S. Forest Service's continued effort to expand authority and control of waters on waters that flow in, through and over public lands. In the agency's proposed groundwater directive, the USFS threatens to control surface and groundwater by considering all waters interconnected in all agency planning activities. The proposed directive not only asserts federal supremacy of state waters on national forest system land, but lands adjacent to federal lands.
The proposed directive follows ongoing USFS actions to limit public land grazing by reducing allotted animal unit months (AUMs), which land agencies use to measure how much forage is on public land. Fewer animal unit months result in fewer cattle being allowed to graze. Farm Bureau opposes federal actions to garner defacto water rights through reductions in grazing.
As Parker noted, the water isn't the federal governments' for the taking.
"To be clear, the water originating within the borders of the state of Utah, including on the lands managed by the Forest Service, are not the waters of the federal government, nor are they the waters of the American people," Parker said. "They are the sovereign waters of the state of Utah and belong to the citizens of Utah."
The USFS' directive is the latest in a long history of actions designed to leave states high and dry. The agency has filed 16,000 diligence claims on water livestock in Utah, sought ownership of ski area water rights, required "joint ownership" of livestock water rights and fenced cattle off from ranchers' private water rights.
In March, the House passed the Farm Bureau-supported Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3189), which would prohibit agencies within USDA and the Department of the Interior from imposing conditions through the permit process that would require the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government in order to receive or renew the federal permit for the use of land.
USFS' actions to reduce livestock grazing is especially egregious in light of the sizeable investment the state of Utah, ranchers and sportsmen have made in habitat restoration projects on public lands to increase livestock and wildlife feed. "Although there is more [for animals] to eat, the federal land management agencies continue to cut or suspend grazing permits," Parker said.
Parker also took issue with the Forest Service's attempts to establish federal supremacy over state water rights by imposing federal permits requiring written authorization and reporting.
"This costly and time-consuming process overlaid on state regulatory functions will cause confusion and is detrimental to the economic future of states that rely on water flowing from Forest Service land," he told lawmakers.
Parker closed his testimony by urging Congress to act on their right and obligation to set boundaries for federal agencies, in particular on the issues of states' water rights and EPA's recently proposed "Waters of the U.S." regulation.