The federal agency says it would use executive fiat to proclaim management control over “surface and groundwater resources that are hydraulically interconnected and consider them interconnected in all planning and evaluation activities.”
Word of the plan prompted Rep. Tom McClintock who chairs the House Natural Resources subcommittee on water and power to summons Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to appear before a hearing this week.
However, the Obama administration official along with another top Interior Department bureaucrat refused to participate and explain these and other proposed water-related restrictions.
“The absence speaks volumes about their lack of defense for these proposals and makes a mockery of this administration’s pledge for transparency,” said McClintock, California Republican.
Western Republican lawmakers quickly unified against the directive and issued a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who oversees the Forest Service, which was signed by 38 House and Senate members including Colorado Reps. Scott Tipton, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman.
The directive would allow the agency to object to state-regulated projects on land adjacent to 155 national forests in 40 states that purportedly harms groundwater, and lawmakers say that without local input, the actions would lead to lawsuits to uphold water rights and public land access.
“The end result could be lost jobs and reduced recreational access to public lands, with little or no environmental benefit,” said the lawmakers who are members of the Western Caucus lead by Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming.
“This proposal has reinforced our belief that the Forest Service is continuing its action to override state water laws. We therefore urge you to withdraw this ill-timed and punitive directive,” the lawmakers said.
Lawmakers also warned that the plan specifically sought to coordinate the Forest Service action with the controversial Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate “applications for water rights on adjacent land that could adversely affect NFS groundwater resources and identify any potential injury to those resources.”
“In addition, the directive appears to expand or modify permit requirements relating to climate change that could impact water users adjacent to (Forest Service) groundwater resources,” the lawmakers told Vilsack.
“These and other provisions would impose a chilling effect on existing and future water resource development and the uses dependent on that development not only within (Forest Service) lands but outside these lands,” the letter said.
Tipton said after Tuesday’s hearing that the directive could give regional Forest Service staff the authority to go after any water rights arising on or off forest lands to carry out broad objectives.
“This is a disturbing onslaught coming out of this administration,” Tipton said.
Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington state Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the directive would make it more difficult to repair or build new projects that benefit municipalities, agriculture, endangered species and its habitat.