U.S. Forest Service Announces Public Meetings on Ski Area Water Rights

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SAM Magazine--April 11, 2013--U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today announced a series of meetings in Colorado, Utah and California that will focus on the development of a ski area water rights clause impacting ski facility operations on national forests.

“Skiing is an important recreational activity on our nation’s forests and greatly contributes to the economy of resort communities,” said Tidwell. “The water used by ski areas for snowmaking and other activities is essential to sustain the long-term future of the communities. The Forest Service welcomes input from the ski areas, the communities and the public as to how water rights should be managed in order to ensure long-term benefits.”

Currently, the Forest Service policy keeps water with the land and allows ski resorts to use water from nearby streams and lakes for snow-making during times when snowfall fails to provide enough cover for ski runs. The agency has maintained that by keeping the water with the land, the ski industry will remain vibrant while mountain communities will have abundant water supplies into the future.

The announced meetings are open to the public and will seek input regarding how to best meet the needs of surrounding communities and ski areas. The open forums are scheduled in Denver on April 16, Salt Lake City on April 17, and Lake Tahoe, Calif., on April 18. Forest Service leaders and technical experts from Washington, D.C., as well as from local and regional offices will be on-hand to take public comments and provide additional information on the water rights issue.

The announced public meetings are predicated on the agency’s need to update a clause on the ski area special use permits, which it did in 2011 and 2012. The clauses were challenged in federal court, and a U.S. District Court judge determined the clauses were a legislative rather than an interpretive rule, which means that the agency is required to provide public notice and comment before issuing a final clause. The judge did not comment on the substance of the clause as written.

There will be an additional opportunity to comment later on a proposed clause.