Farm Bureau denounces federal grab of states’ water rights
Washington—The Forest Service’s latest attempt to take water rights from farmers and ranchers violates fundamental constitutional protections, the Colorado Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation told congressional lawmakers last week. The proposed Forest Service Groundwater Directive, they said, would circumvent state water rights and give the agency unprecedented control over water use in the West.
“Water is the lifeblood for all farm and ranch operations,” Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft told the House Agriculture Committee. “We are outraged that the federal government continues to grossly and willfully ignore the established system of water rights.”
Similar to the administration’s proposed “waters of the U.S.” rule, the directive seeks to stretch federal authority over water resources at the expense of private property rights and state authority. “The directive goes further by attempting to manage groundwater of both national forest system and adjacent private lands,” said Shawcroft. “Such an assumption of federal authority violates federal and state law and will ultimately upset water allocation systems and private property rights on which western economies have been built.”
Shawcroft further explained that the new directive would empower the Forest Service to demand the transfer of private water rights to the federal government as a condition of a ranchers grazing permits renewal. Under these circumstances, if the Forest Service ever terminates the permitted use, the jointly held water rights would “succeed to sole ownership” of the United States without just compensation. Ranchers are greatly concerned that the Forest Service will use the groundwater directive as mechanism to further erode grazing opportunities on public lands.
“Should it succeed in this attempt, an agency of the federal government would gain unprecedented control over waters of the states through a purely administrative action, thus giving the Forest Service greater control over the natural resources in the West,” Shawcroft said.
Farm Bureau urged Congress to stop the directive, and Shawcroft noted the organizations’ support for the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3189), passed by the House in March. The bill would ensure those who hold water rights will not be abridged and that federal agencies may not unlawfully use the permit process to acquire rights they do not currently possess. Most importantly, the legislation does not bridge anyone’s rights—those of individuals, the states or the federal government.