Water rights transfer is complicated

Keywords: Durango Herald,

After reading a lot of different proposals and orders from both state and federal officials, I ask myself what is going on here? Most of these implements all concern transfer of water rights. Most of HR 3189 is joined at the hip with ski resorts’ water rights. These water rights can be transferable to other regions of the West upon the sale of the ski resort. The Forest Service policy does state that if a sale occurs, the water shall remain with the land and not be transferable to the buyer of said ski resort. “Entire mountain towns and economies depend upon recreation on federal lands and its vital to ensure the people through their government, retain control of the water that is the lifeblood of those communities,” (The Denver Post).

As to conditions being placed on federally recognized Indian tribes as in HR 3189, under the Winter doctrine, Indian reservations confer a water right, entitling Indians to sufficient water to carry out the purpose of the reservation. The priority date of the right is the date the reservation was established. Although the purposes of the reservation measure the quantity of water that is reserved, the Indians’ use of reserved water, once quantified, is not confined to those purposes. Western officials and water interests view Indian water rights as a loose cannon on deck, with the potential to wreak havoc with state water rights. Because of their priority date, Indian water rights are usually senior to all but a few non-Indian rights. The loose cannon has been weak because of Indians’ lack of economic resources to develop their rights. However, a much different situation is presented if the Indians can sell or lease their rights to others for use off the reservation. That just a glance at the transfer of water rights.

Christopher Chavez