New Water Fight may be Brewing Between Western States, Feds

The proposed directive from the U.S. Forest Service sounds simple enough. The service wants to add a new chapter to its manual that would give it certain prerogatives in managing groundwater on national forest and other federal lands.

To wit:

"2560 – Establishes new chapter and sets forth direction on managing groundwater resources associated with National Forest System lands and clarifies roles, responsibilities, and procedures for addressing groundwater resource management."

But, wait a minute, said the Western Governors' Association, that dog won't hunt.

Firing off a letter of concern to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the WGA wrote,  "As you know, states are the exclusive authority for allocating, administering, protecting and developing groundwater resources, and they are primarily responsible for water supply planning within their boundaries."

In short, buzz off.

The letter was signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the chairman of the WGA whose term is set to expire, and incoming chair Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada. "Well over a century ago, Congress recognized states as the sole authority over groundwater in the Desert Land Act of 1877," Hickenlooper and Sandoval wrote (or someone did on their behalf). "The United States Supreme Court reiterated the exclusive nature of state authority (in a 1935 case.) "

"Despite that, the proposed directive only identifies states as 'potentially affected parties' and asserts that the proposed actions would "not have substantial direct effects on the states," the WGA said in a press release. "A review of the proposed directive, however, leads Western Governors to believe that this measure could have significant implications for states."

Water fight, anyone? Stay tuned.

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