WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18, 2017 – Land managers in the West increasingly demand that ranchers who work federal land surrender their water rights to the government or get off the range. It’s extortion and a form of unconstitutional taking that simply has to stop, Randy Parker, Utah Farm Bureau’s vice president of national government affairs, told the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans.

Legislation known as the Water Rights Protection Act could mean an end to federal strong-arming of ranchers by a government that owns the vast majority of land that can be grazed west of the Mississippi. Parker cited numerous instances in which the federal government forced or attempted to force ranchers to surrender their water rights.

Parker urged Congress to act.

“I want to commend Representative Scott Tipton for his leadership and continued support for advancing this important legislation,” Parker told the subcommittee. “Trust and a good working relationship are critical in reducing the uncertainty that has plagued ranchers across the western landscape and the rural communities they support.”

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.