House passes bill that will harm rivers nationwide

March 13, 2014

Contact: Matt Niemerski, western water policy director, American Rivers (202-347-7550)
Matt Rice, Colorado Basin director, American Rivers (803-422-5244)

Washington – The House of Representatives voted today to approve a bill that could dry up countless stretches of rivers and harm river restoration efforts nationwide. HR 3189, the so-called “Water Rights Protection Act” passed 238-174.

“This bill is terrible news for rivers nationwide. It puts the interests of the oil and gas industry, corporate agriculture, and other private interests over the health of our rivers, fish and wildlife, and the millions of Americans who fish, boat, and enjoy river recreation. American Rivers and our partners across the country will continue to stand against this bill and we urge the Senate to oppose this sweeping attack on our rivers,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers.

The bill, which was pushed by the National Ski Areas Association and Aspen’s SkiCo, as well as the Farm Bureau, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Colorado Petroleum Association, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, would strip federal agencies of much of their authority to safeguard rivers, fish and wildlife.

The bill was originally introduced to address a specific conflict between Colorado’s ski industry and the U.S. Forest Service. Despite the fact the Forest Service has already acted to address the issue with the ski industry, the bill became a vehicle in which the interests of the oil and gas industry, corporate agriculture, and other industries were put above the public’s interest in healthy rivers.

In the face of stiff opposition from conservationists, sportsmen, the White House, and fellow Democrats, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), an original co-sponsor of the bill, took the unusual and courageous step of removing his support for the bill prior to the vote, calling it a “job killer” because it would pose unacceptable risks to rivers.

HR 3189 could stop the Fish and Wildlife Service from requiring flows that help salmon find fish ladders so that they can safely pass over dams. It could prohibit the Forest Service from requiring that water diverters like fracking companies leave some water in streams on National Forests to keep native cutthroat trout alive. It could potentially destroy broadly supported multi-year and multi-million dollar settlement agreements — such as the ones on the Klamath and San Joaquin rivers — to restore salmon and steelhead fisheries at hydropower facilities, and could even set back efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

More than 80 local, state and national environmental, recreation, and sportsmen’s groups and businesses including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, Trout Unlimited, American Whitewater, Appalachian Mountain Club, Hydropower Reform Coalition, and O.A.R.S. Companies, Inc expressed opposition to H.R. 3189. The White House also issued a statement in opposition to the bill.

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