The Water Rights Protection Act introduced in the House could bring U.S. ranchers much-needed relief from ongoing efforts by the federal government to extort privately held water rights from law-abiding citizens. This legislation would certainly help Montana ranchers.
"Montana is one third public land, and much of its water emanates from Forest Service or BLM lands. It is vitally important that our members be able to retain their rights to use water rights they have developed on public land,” noted Montana Farm Bureau Executive Director John Youngberg. “The fact that federal agencies are trying to leverage people into ceding their water rights as a condition of renewal of grazing permits equates to extortion and needs to be stopped.”
The American Farm Bureau has been instrumental in supporting this legislation. “It’s time to put a stop to federal strong-arming of ranchers by a government that owns the majority of the land for grazing west of the Mississippi,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “Water is the most valuable resource for every farmer and rancher. Unfortunately, the federal tactics we’ve seen in recent years have little to do with conservation and everything to do with big government and control.”
In recent years, federal land managers in the West have demanded increasingly that the ranchers who work the land surrender their water rights to the government or leave. Public lands are meant to be enjoyed and shared by our citizens, and America’s ranchers play a critical role in caring for these lands. The government’s treatment of these ranchers is not only unfair, but unconstitutional, AFBF said.
For America’s farmers and ranchers to continue to provide the food, fuel and fiber for the nation and the world, they simply must have access to water. This is especially crucial in the West. All citizens have a right to expect that their lawfully acquired water rights will be respected by the federal government.
If passed, the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 2939) would bar the federal government from seizing state-granted water rights from ranchers and restore basic property rights to them. According to AFBF, the act echoes policy changes President Trump set forth in his executive order on Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America, which further supports the protection of ranchers’ water rights.
The legislation would also:
- Prohibit agencies from demanding transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government in exchange for federal land use permits or other things;
- Maintain federal deference to state water law; and
- Maintain environmental safeguards already in place.
Farm Bureau commends Congressman Scott Tipton’s leadership on the legislation, and urges Congress to act swiftly to bring America’s ranchers much-needed relief.