There are authorized to be appropriated for expenditure by the Forest Service such sums as may be necessary for the investigation and establishment of water rights, including the purchase thereof or of lands or interests in lands or rights-of-way for use and protection of water rights necessary or beneficial in connection with the administration and public use of the national forests.
16 U.S. Code § 526. Establishment and protection of water rights
(Sept. 21, 1944, ch. 412, title II, § 213, 58 Stat. 737.)
This section was enacted as a part of the Department of Agriculture Organic Act of 1944.
Interim Moratorium on Bypass Flows
There shall be a 20-month moratorium on any Forest Service decision to require bypass flows or any other relinquishment of the unimpaired use of a decreed water right as a condition of renewal or reissuance of a land use authorization permit.
“(b) Limitations.—Subsection (a) shall not affect—
obligations or authority of the Secretary of Agriculture to protect public health and safety; and
“(c) Rules of Construction.—
“(1) Existing non-federal water rights.—
Nothing in this section prevents or inhibits the exercise of the use and operation of existing non-Federal water rights on or above the National Forest land that require land use authorization permits from the Forest Service to access water supply facilities.
“(2) Renewal or reissuance of expiring land use authorization for decreed water rights.—
Nothing in this section prevents or inhibits the renewal or reissuance of expiring land use authorizations for decreed water rights. The Forest Service may extend, as needed, any expiring land use authorization for such time as is necessary to incorporate the results of the study authorized by subsection (d).
“(d) Study of Water Rights Across Federal Lands.—
Not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act [Apr. 4, 1996], there shall be established a Water Rights Task Force to study the subjects described in paragraph (3).
“(2) Membership.—The Task Force shall be composed of 7 members appointed as follows:
1 member shall be appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture.
2 members shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and 1 member shall be appointed by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.
2 members shall be appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate and 1 member shall be appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate.
“(3) Subjects to be studied.—The Task Force shall study and make recommendations on—
whether Federal water rights should be acquired for environmental protection on National Forest land;
measures necessary to protect the free exercise of non-Federal water rights requiring easements and permits from the Forest Service;
the protection of minimum instream flows for environmental and watershed management purposes on National Forest land through purchases or exchanges from willing sellers in accordance with State law;
the effects of any of the recommendations made under this paragraph on existing State laws, regulations, and customs of water usage; and
measures that would be useful in avoiding or resolving conflicts between the Forest Service’s responsibilities for natural resource and environmental protection, the public interest, and the property rights and interests of water holders with special use permits for water facilities, including the study of the Federal acquisition of water rights, dispute resolution, mitigation, and compensation.
“(4) Final report.—As soon as practicable, but not later than 14 months, after the date of enactment of this Act [Apr. 4, 1996], the Task Force shall provide the final report of the Task Force to—
the Secretary of Agriculture;
the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
the President pro tempore of the Senate;
the Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives;
the Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Senate;
the Chairman of the Committee on Resources [now Committee on Natural Resources] of the House of Representatives; and
the Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate.
“(5) Authorization of funds.—
The Secretary of Agriculture shall use funds made available for salaries and administrative expenses of the Department of Agriculture to carry out this subsection.
“(e) Extension for Delay.—There shall be a day-for-day extension to the 20-month moratorium required by subsection (a) and a day-for-day extension to the report required by subsection (d)(4)—
for every day of delay in implementing or establishing the Water Rights Task Force caused by a failure to nominate Task Force members by the Administration or by the Congress; or