US Forest Service's proposed Groundwater Resource Management Directive would give agency powers to seize state waters, warn Western US lawmakers; 43 members of Congress write to USDA secretary urging withdrawal

WASHINGTON , June 27, 2014 (press release) – Members warn new Directive will restrict Americans’ access to public lands and interfere with state and private water rights.

Today, Senate Western Caucus Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), Congressional Western Caucus co-chairs Stevan Pearce (R-NM) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) as well as House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and House Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA), joined 38 other lawmakers in sending a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warning that the U.S. Forest Service’s recently proposed Groundwater Resource Management Directive (Directive) will restrict access to public lands and interfere with state and private water rights.

The Directive would initiate the Forest Service’s authority over state-managed groundwater resources claiming that surface water and groundwater is “hydraulically interconnected” and that the agency could object to state-regulated projects on “adjacent” land that purportedly harm groundwater.

In their letter, the lawmakers warn that this Directive, which was proposed without state or local input, will encourage litigation, restrict Americans’ access to our public lands and potentially interfere with adjacent state, local and private land and water rights.

“Like other proposals stemming from this Administration, including the Forest Service Planning Rule, the Interim Directive on Ski Area Special Use Permits, the Blueways Secretarial Order and the proposed Clean Water Act Jurisdictional rule, this Directive seeks to further federalize water resources at the expense of state authority. This sweeping proposal additionally seeks to impose water use restrictions and deny agricultural, recreational, and other economic activity in 155 National Forests and their adjacent state, local and private neighbors in 40 states. The end result could be lost jobs and reduced recreational access to public lands, with little or no environmental benefit,” Caucus Members wrote.

In addition to Barrasso, Pearce, Lummis, Hastings and McClintock, the letter was signed by Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), John Cornyn (R-TX), John Thune (R-SD), James Risch (R-ID), David Vitter (R-LA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representatives Trent Franks (R-AZ), Mark Amodei (R-NV), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Walter Jones (R-NC), Don Young (R-AK), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Scott Tipton (R-CO), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Paul Broun (R-GA), Jason Smith (R-MO), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Eric Crawford (R-AR), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Steve Daines (R-MT), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Billy Long (R-MO) and Adrian Smith (R-NE).


The full text of the letter:
June 24, 2014

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We are troubled by the U.S. Forest Service’s recently proposed Groundwater Resource Management Directive (Directive) to manage water resources purportedly impacting National Forest System (NFS) lands.

Like other proposals stemming from this Administration, including the Forest Service Planning Rule, the Interim Directive on Ski Area Special Use Permits, the Blueways Secretarial Order and the proposed Clean Water Act Jurisdictional rule, this Directive seeks to further federalize water resources at the expense of state authority. This sweeping proposal additionally seeks to impose water use restrictions and deny agricultural, recreational, and other economic activity in 155 National Forests and their adjacent state, local and private neighbors in 40 states. The end result could be lost jobs and reduced recreational access to public lands, with little or no environmental benefit.

The Directive specifically seeks to “[m]anage surface water and groundwater resources as hydraulically interconnected,”[1] laying the groundwork for unilateral, federally-imposed mandates on the exercise of state-endowed water rights. The Directive further requires Forest Service cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency[2] and an evaluation of “applications for water rights on adjacent land that could adversely affect NFS groundwater resources and identify any potential injury to those resources.”[3] In addition, the Directive appears to expand or modify permit requirements relating to climate change that could impact water users adjacent to NFS groundwater resources.[4] These and other provisions would impose a chilling effect on existing and future water resource development and the uses dependent on that development not only within NFS lands but outside these lands.

We are further concerned that this Directive will lead to regulations that undermine the Forest Service’s statutory multiple-use responsibilities for managing the nation’s national forests and grasslands. The proposed Directive could also encourage litigation and impose de facto federal buffer zones on water users and job creators adjacent to NFS lands. In addition, this action has been pursued without the initial and necessary input from impacted states, farmers, recreationists and ranchers and many others who would be directly impacted by this Directive.

This proposal has reinforced our belief that the Forest Service is continuing its action to override state water laws. We therefore urge you to withdraw this ill-timed and punitive Directive.

[1] Forest Service Groundwater Resource Management Chapter 2560 p. 8.
2 Id, p. 9.
3 Id, p. 17.
4https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/05/06/2014-10366/proposed-directive-on-groundwater-resource-management-forest-service-manual-2560, p. 25816.

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The Congressional Western Caucus and Senate Western Caucus are comprised of Members of Congress committed to protecting the interests and ideals of the West

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