Aspen and Other Ski Areas Support a Bill That Could Dry Up Rivers

 Summer rains fill the Diamond S Ditch just downstream from its diversion point from the Verde River. Photo by Cheryl Zook/National Geographic
Could Western water be in trouble with a proposed bill? Photo by Cheryl Zook/National Geographic

It’s ski season, and ski areas like Aspen (currently home to the Winter X Games) are good at getting PR touting their commitment to environmental sustainability – like this recent Men’s Journal story. But what many people don’t know is that Aspen Skiing Company and the National Ski Areas Association are currently supporting a bill that could dry up rivers, damage fish and wildlife habitat, and hurt fishing and boating.

The so-called “Water Rights Protection Act” (HR 3189) would allow private water users to dry up rivers on public lands with no regard for other uses or needs. With their support of this anti-environment bill, the ski areas association is in bed with Big Ag and western cattle groups.

The bill would prevent federal agencies within the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior from ensuring enough water flows in our rivers – which is essential for healthy streams, local economies, and endangered species. The bill would put private uses of water, like snow-making and irrigation, ahead of other beneficial public uses such as fish and wildlife and recreation.

Matt Rice, director of the Colorado Basin program at American Rivers, spells out the bill’s implications in Steamboat Today:

For instance, in Colorado, this could prohibit the Forest Service from requiring water diverters to leave some water in streams on National Forests to keep native cutthroat trout alive. It could also stop the Fish and Wildlife Service from requiring flows that help salmon find fish ladders so that they can safely pass over dams. It would potentially destroy broadly supported multi-year and multi-million dollar settlement agreements to restore American shad, salmon and steelhead fisheries at hydropower facilities. It even undermines fundamental principles of states’ rights by creating a new federal definition of a water right. At the very least, it would create mountains and mountains of litigation.

The bill originated from a narrow conflict between a ski area and the Forest Service, but the bill is written so broadly it could have major impacts on river management nationwide. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Mark Udall, the Forest Service is working to resolve the conflict – protecting rivers and providing certainty around water rights. This bill is simply not necessary.

So why are many in the ski industry still behind this awful bill? Why is Aspen, which claims to be a strong environmental steward, actively supporting legislation that could cause such harm to rivers across Colorado and the nation?

You can help stop this over-reaching, misguided bill by contacting your Congressional representatives.

You can also contact Aspen Skiing Company to ask them to withdraw support for the bill:


Twitter: @aspensnowmass


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Amy Kober is the senior communications director for American Rivers, a national non-profit river conservation organization. She lives in Portland, OR.