Energy & Environment
4:56 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Panel Accuses Forest Service of Water Grab

Utah's forested mountains are the starting points for 70 percent of the water that serves Utahns. A new U.S. Forest Service plan for including groundwater in decision-making nationwide has been panned by the State Water Development Commission.
Credit U.S. Forest Service

 

The U.S. Forest Service says it wants to do a better job safeguarding the nation’s groundwater. But its initiative to protect that vital resource is coming under attack in Utah and elsewhere. KUER’s Judy Fahys reports.

Utah’s State Water Development Commission has a simple message for the Forest Service and its new groundwater directive.

“You know, this is our water,” State Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and member of the panel. “I wish you would leave your grubby hands off of it. We have the rights. You don’t. All water in the state of Utah belongs to the people and not to you. And that directive seems like a backhanded way of trying to get to this.”

The panel is not just asking the Forest Service to change the groundwater proposal but to completely scrap it. Jenkins and other critics say it amounts to a federal water grab.

State Sen. Margaret Dayton, an Orem Republican and the commission’s co-chair, says water is crucial for a desert state like Utah, and the Forest Service directive overreaches.

“It’s a regulatory taking of water that will have a significant, negative impact on the economy, on agriculture on recreation, on the environment, on the overall livability of the state,” she says.

The Utah Farm Bureau, the Western Governors Association and a group representing the nation’s 121 ski resorts are also criticizing the groundwater plan.

Chris Iverson, Deputy Regional Forester for the four-state region that includes Utah, recently tried to reassure the commission that his agency recognizes that states govern water.

“What this directive is telling our folks to do in the Forest Service,” he told the water commission, “is to evaluate groundwater resources in similar way in which we evaluate wildlife habitat, or we evaluate soil resources or we evaluate air resources.”

The groundwater plan, he says, just makes it part of the agency’s routine to protect underground reservoirs that provide drinking water for 66 million Americans.

The Forest Service is accepting comments on its proposal through Aug. 4.

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