Hearing held to Discuss Forest Service Groundwater Directive
The U.S. Forest Service's proposed groundwater directive was the topic of discussion at Wednesday’s hearing hosted by the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry. Forest Service Chief, Thomas Tidwell, testified on behalf on the Forest Service, doing little to ease the concern of Committee members and stakeholders in attendance. Panelists included Tony Willardson, executive director of Western States Water Council; Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau; and Scott Verhines, New Mexico State Engineer.
Tidwell stated the proposed directive is intended to provide a framework for clarifying current policy and streamline existing requirements across the National Forest System. However, panelists raised question to several issues including the lack of statutory authority required to carry out the proposed directive, the directive’s violation of state-based water law, and upset to the water allocation system on which western economies have been built for over 150 years.
Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the Public Lands Council said while the Forest Service claims they are limiting their reach via the directive, it has quickly become apparent that the Forest Service believes that there is interconnectivity between groundwater and surface water, which would give them the authority to manage both.
“This overreaching directive assumes that the Forest Service owns or manages all groundwater found under or adjacent to National Forest land,” said Van Liew, who is also executive director of federal lands for NCBA. “This is simply not true. The Forest Service does not have the authority or right to encompass all groundwater resources on a watershed-wide scale, including adjacent private property.”
Reminiscent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to strip states’ rights with the “Waters of the United States” proposal, this directive would give the Forest Service the authority to evaluate all applications to states for water rights on National Forest Service lands as well as adjacent lands. This would place a federal approval requirement into state water rights.
“The federal government, in this case through the Forest Service, is attempting to expand its authority to encompass resources that it has no right to control,” said Van Liew. “The EPA is seeking to control virtually all waters on the surface, and now the Forest Service has taken it one step further by attempting to seize control of groundwater. If this trend continues, the private property rights that people have acquired in this country will soon be a thing of the past. We cannot allow the ever increasing government land and water grabs to continue.”