Senators offer bill to bar presidential ‘water grab’ via monument designation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, Arizona, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Utah, introduced a bill Thursday, S. 1416, aiming to prevent the president from changing the federal water-rights designation of lands declared to be national monuments.

When the president federalizes land by declaring it a national monument, it can both limit public access and change the water rights associated with the land. In short, the president can unilaterally expand the federal-reserved water rights associated with existing federal lands simply by cloaking it in a national monument designation.

“It is unimaginable that the president can expand federal reserved water rights simply with the stroke of a pen,” Flake said. “It’s time to veto the presidential water right – and safeguard private property rights – by limiting this kind of unchecked authority.”

This measure would simply restrict the type of water rights that are associated with the monument when it is designated without congressional approval, according to a press release on behalf of the sponsoring senators. Changing the nature of water rights can have negative consequences for private property owners who have land and water rights near the newly minted monument. This bill would ensure that the president can no longer conduct “water grabs” by unilaterally expanding federal water rights, the release said.

The Senate bill proposes amendment of federal law regarding national monuments to provide:

In designating a national monument under subsection (a) (of U.S. Code Section 320301, which authorizes the president to reserve parcels of land as a part of the national monuments), the President may not reserve any implied or expressed water rights associated with the national monument.

“Utahns know that monument designations can have serious implications for privately held water rights,” Hatch said. “Utah is the second driest state in the nation, and water development is vital to our way of life. This commonsense bill ensures a role for Congress in addressing unilateral land grabs by the executive branch.”

“I’m hearing from a growing number of my constituents in Arizona who are concerned that a so-called ‘Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument’ would take away their ability to enjoy and utilize about 1.7 million acres of public land located outside the Grand Canyon National Park boundaries,” McCain said. “If the Obama Administration moves forward with this proposed monument, it has the potential to ‘federalize’ the area’s watershed and uproot critical water rights in Arizona. Our bill seeks to pump the brakes on what would be an illegal water grab by the federal government.”

“The Antiquities Act is, as its name suggests, a 100-year-old law that is in desperate need of reform,” Lee said. “This bill looks to protect water rights owners from further abuse by the president’s executive pen.”


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