- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service is abandoning a plan to transfer certain water rights to the federal government and is instead requiring operators to demonstrate sufficient water access for skiing.

Operators need long-term water availability to obtain permits to operate on public land. This replaces a controversial proposal that opponents said would harm the value of ski areas, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1PDL0kr).

After the final directive was posted on the Federal Register Wednesday, National Ski Areas Association policy director Geraldine Link said that the new policy is an enlightened approach that is both practical and workable.

“That (water) sufficiency requirement protects their interest and our interest at the same time,” she said.

Forest Service officials started working toward revised rules four years ago amid concerns that water rights supporting ski areas on public land would be bartered to downstream developers, harming recreation.

Link’s group filed a successful lawsuit against the Forest Service over the water transfer rule in 2012, leading to a series of public sessions on the topic the following year.

The Forest Service acknowledged water rights should be left to states to administer and that ski area operators invest in the public land they use, unlike other permit holders for national forest land use.

Snowbasin Resort recently installed an 11.5 million-gallon pond that will support snowmaking.

“We want to be in business for the long haul,” Link said. “When a permit is retired, the owner must offer (water rights) to a successor. The new clause says you offer them to a buyer of a ski area, and if they decline, the owner can pursue other options. They kept market flexibility. This brings more certainty. This encourages ski areas to invest in water rights and water infrastructure.”

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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