River Watch: Bill Dubbed "River Killer" Passes


Photo Credit: Ken Neubecker

Today, under the leadership of Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) in the House Natural Resources Committee, high-profile legislators with anti-environment track records and agendas voted almost strictly along party lines to move a bill forward that would effectively kill Colorado’s rivers.

HR 3189, introduced by Scott Tipton (R-CO) and (shockingly!) Jared Polis (D-CO) and known as the “Water Rights Protection Act,” is a simple but highly impactful piece of legislation that would remove authority exercised for decades by federal land management agencies like the BLM and U.S. Forest Service to ensure adequate water flows down our rivers as part of their role in approving water rights transactions on federal land across the country. While the bill is not expected to get past the Senate under the watchful eyes of river guardians like Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), it represents the latest egregious attack on our rivers and the West.

In response to the potentially devastating and far-reaching consequences to river systems across the country, the U.S. Forest Service swiftly pledged to resolve the issue, which stemmed from a conflict between a Colorado ski resort and the U.S. Forest Service but quickly spun out of control as it landed in the laps of short-sighted legislators, supported by Big Ag interests, who hijacked the bill to further their own partisan political agenda. (These are the same legislators that consistently demonstrate with their ‘ayes’ and ‘nays’ the inability to comprehend the relationship between healthy rivers, national forests and public lands– what happens on public lands affects the availability and quality clean, abundant water supply, native ecosystems, and vitally important recreation like fishing and kayaking that serves as an economic lifeblood across the West).

Similarly, it’s a mystery to me how some of the bill’s vocal proponents like the ski industry (known for supporting pro-environment legislation) and Colorado legislators could lend their support to such a bill when the vast majority of their constituents’ water supply originates from rivers like the Colorado River, born of snowmelt on national forests and nurtured along her journey hundreds of miles southwest from Grand County to Los Angeles through publicly-managed canyons and confluences on its way to over 40 million farms and families. In Colorado, our rivers and water supply originate from public lands protected and managed as part of vast headwaters systems.

Christopher E. Williams, Senior Vice President for Conservation at American Rivers, a group who led the charge to oppose the scope of this legislation, made the following statement: “The House Natural Resources Committee, seizing on a narrow conflict over water rights between the U.S. Forest Service and the ski industry in Colorado, is attempting to fast track legislation that could have serious implications for water management across the country. H.R. 3189, the so-called “Water Rights Protection Act” is an unduly broad and unnecessary attempt to tie the hands of Federal agencies working to provide flexible water management options and reasonable safeguards to protect fish, wildlife, and recreational benefits on our public lands.”

“At Senator Mark Udall’s encouragement, the Forest Service is taking the right approach, proposing a change of regulations that will address the issue directly and maintain protection for public lands resources and the aesthetic and recreational opportunities they provide. We greatly appreciate the work of Senator Udall in moving this process towards a balanced and sensible resolution. Thanks to his hard work, the U.S. Forest Service has committed to maintaining environmental safeguards for our public lands while protecting water rights and the people and businesses that depend on them.”
Bravo to Senator Mark Udall and the U.S. Forest Service for standing up once again for Colorado’s rivers. Hopefully the rest of our state’s elected folks and our ski industry will get on board and end these persistent attacks on healthy rivers and abundant, clean water.

To read more about the bill, click here.

Editor’s Note: We met Erica Stock at an awareness and fundraiser for American Rivers, her employer, and the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. (We are proud supporters.) Erica’s driving professional passion is to build the organizational capacity of public and nonprofit organizations that seek to tackle the challenges facing coldwater fisheries and western rivers. She also advises philanthropists seeking to invest and support such initiatives. In her free time, Erica travels to remote corners of the earth to fly fish (among other challenging activities). Telluride Inside… and Out welcomes Erica Stock into our family of writers, especially our contributors on the environment and sustainability. Look for her twice-monthly posts.

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