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Forest Service proposes new water rights rules in ski areas

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is proposing to amend its rules regarding water rights around its ski slopes. USFS is outlining in the Federal Register of Monday, June 23, 2014 two proposed changes in its procedures because of ongoing difficulties in getting adequate water to manage ski areas and their concessions. USFS says the current rules are impossible to implement in some areas and do not allow for sufficient water to run the activities.

The 1982 Forest Manuel requires that USFS obtain water rights for making snow and operating facilities. Concessionaires can request rights on behalf of USFS. In 2004, the policy was amended to allow concessionaires and USFS to obtain the rights jointly. But the 2004 policy has let to considerable confusion, as water was obtained from different sources from in and out of federal property and transported in different ways, USFS found. So it amended the clause in 2011 to address different types of water rights.

The 2011 directive distinguished between rights for water diverted from and used on local forest service land in the ski permit area, rights for water coming from USFS property outside the permit area, and water from outside sources. USFS amended the clause further in 2012. But the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) sued in federal court. NSAA charged that USFS did not allow for public comment before changing the procedures, in violation of several federal statutes. U.S. District Court in Colorado agreed and vacated the 2011 and 2012 changes.

So USFS is proposing new procedures and taking public comments. It conducted four open houses and sought comments last year too. It is reproposing the ideas based on what it learned.

You can submit comments by Aug. 22 to electronically to or or by mail to USDA Forest Service;Attn: Carolyn Holbrook; Recreation, Heritage, and Volunteer Resources staff; Ski Area Water Rights Comments; 1400 Independence Ave. SW; Stop 1125; Washington, DC 20250-1125. If you have questions, call Holbrook at (202) 205-1426.

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