Washington, DC - A proud member of the House Western Caucus, Congressman Duncan Hunter (CA-50) today cosponsored several bills aiming to bring some much needed reforms to how water is regulated on the federal level. This effort coincides with Congressman Hunter’s “First 100-Day Initiative,” a proactive legislative plan to bring about some common-sense policy changes in the new 116th Congress.
“Water is one of the most critical natural resources we have, especially here in Southern California,” said Congressman Hunter. “Unfortunately, we have people managing water in a manner that totally disregards the property rights of average Americans and prohibits much needed flexibility in our water usage. These bills address these important issues.”
The bills Congressman Hunter cosponsored today include:
H.R. 807, the Water and Agriculture Tax Reform (WATER) Act- A free-market solution that will reduce the cost of water and boost the economies of rural communities by providing mutual irrigation, reservoir and water companies with the flexibility needed to improve water infrastructure without raising rates. Under current law, cooperative water storage and delivery companies may qualify for tax-exempt status if 85 percent of the entity’s income is derived from member shareholders, which include farmers, ranchers and rural water users. This common-sense legislation will address rising costs on rural residents by excluding certain revenue streams, like recreational leases and crossing fees, from the 85 percent test if the revenue is used exclusively for operations and maintenance costs. It will ensure that funds are reinvested in rural water infrastructure development and maintenance.
H.R. 579, the Water Rights Protection Act- In recent years, federal agencies, such as the US Forest Service, has engaged in gross federal overreach. Some of the most egregious examples being the City of Banning’s (CA) fight against the San Bernardino Forest Supervisor for its special use permit and the Forest Service’s attempt to overturn over 100 years of precedent recognizing an 1891 Act ditch right-of-way in Rio Blanco County, CO. The Water Rights Protection Act would prevent the federal government from extorting water rights through the use of permits, leases and other land management arrangements, for which is would otherwise have to pay just compensation under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.
H.R. 580, the Protection and Transparency for Adjacent Landowners Act- With the federal government managing roughly 640 million acres throughout the U.S., the majority of which is in the West, it is vital that the process by which it acquires and conveys property is transparent and includes a consistent public notification process, especially for landowners whose properties are adjacent to federal lands. Additionally, no landowner should be punished for a survey mistake made by the federal government. The Protection and Transparency for Adjacent Landowners Act will require the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to provide advanced written notification to each owner of land that is adjacent to a parcel of land that will be acquired by the federal government. This will provide private landowners with the information they need to preserve the value of their land and make decisions regarding their livelihoods. The bill will also require the BLM to notify all property owners with land bordering federal land identified for a resurvey at least 30 days before the process begins. If the agency determines that private property should be reclassified as federal land, the bill would provide the private landowner the right of first refusal to purchase the land for fair market value or be reimbursed for the fair market value of any significant improvements they made to the land. More importantly, the private landowner may not be charged with trespassing unless they utilized the property after they had knowledge that the land was owned by the federal government.
In addition to these three bills, Congressman Hunter has also agreed to become an original cosponsor of the Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act, which is scheduled to be introduced by Congressman Tom McClintock of California in the near future. The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act codifies a “one-stop-shop” permitting process to streamline construction of all new or expanded surface storage projects. Specifically, the bill establishes the Bureau of Reclamation as the lead agency for purposes of coordinating all reviews, analysis, opinions, statements, permits, licenses, or other federal approvals required under federal law. This effort does not bypass or alter any environmental or safety laws. It simply reforms the process to be more efficient and implementing procedures so that government agencies coordinate and co-operate with each other rather than talking past each other.