Federal agencies managing western lands are increasingly demanding that ranchers with grazing permits on federal lands surrender their water rights to the government or get off the range. The Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) believes this is extortion and not an acceptable practice of the ‘peoples’ government.’ MFBF strongly supports what’s being called the Water Rights Protection Act which could mean an end to federal strong-arming of ranchers by a government that owns the majority of land that can be grazed west of the Mississippi.

Utah Farm Bureau Executive Director Randy Parker told the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans that the unconstitutional taking had to stop. Parker, who was representing all of the western state Farm Bureaus, including Montana, cited numerous instances in which the federal government forced or attempted to force ranchers to surrender their water rights. He urged Congress to act.

MFBF Executive Vice President John Youngberg said, “This critical legislation will ensure the water rights of farmers and ranchers are protected and not surrendered on the whim of federal land managers. We’re pleased Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO) has agreed to advance this legislation and we sincerely hope Montana’s elected officials in Washington all rally around its passage once it’s introduced.”

If passed, the Water Rights Protection Act would bar the federal government from seizing state-granted water rights from ranchers and restore basic property rights to them. The bill, now in discussion draft, is expected to be introduced later this year.

Among other things, the legislation would:

  • 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

Parker’s testimony can be found here: