U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- A contentious Forest Service policy that has
cost some Colorado residents part of their historic water rights may
change under the Bush administration, a top Forest Service official
Forest Service Deputy Chief Randy Phillips said the agency intends
to return to a pre-Clinton policy regarding so-called bypass flows.
In rare cases since 1993, the Forest Service has required owners
of water rights to leave a portion of their water in the river to
benefit fish and wildlife downstream. In exchange, the water user can
cross federal land to get access to the water.
Opponents claim that policy deprived water users of longstanding
access to the water.
Phillips said the policy is still being revised and he did not see
the change as drastic, but Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., and other
opponents declared victory.
``Water users in Colorado and throughout the West should breathe a
sigh of relief at the Forest Service's decision to take a step away
from the heavy-handed bypass flow policy of the Clinton
administration,'' he said in a statement.
McInnis and Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., had asked Agriculture
Secretary Ann Veneman earlier this year to return to a 1992 standard
for renegotiating water rights.
``That's essentially all we've wanted all along,'' said Sean
Conway, Allard's spokesman.
But Charles Gauvin, president of the wildlife conservation group
Trout Unlimited, argued that it makes sense in some cases to use the
access to federal land as leverage to make enough water stays in
rivers to sustain wildlife and habitat.
The water rights are renegotiated only when existing claims
expire. Bypass flows have been a condition of renewal for only 15 of
the 8,000 rights issued by the Forest Service.
But McInnis said the bypass flow policy, if allowed to stand,
could be applied across the country.
''(Bypass flows) are the single largest threat to water users in
Colorado, throughout the West and, in fact, throughout the entire
country,'' he said.
Christopher Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation
District said he will wait to see if the policy really changes. He
said water users should not be subjected to ``whipsaw'' changes with
every new administration.
``Western water is really all about continuity,'' he said. ``To
suggest you have to forfeit part of your water right just to get a
piece of paper is patently unfair.''
Phillips could not say if the policy shift would affect the
management plan for Colorado's White River Forest, which is due out
this summer. McInnis said a draft of the management plan requires the
Forest Service to impose bypass flows when renewing water rights.
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