Forest Service Withdraws Proposed Groundwater Directive

On May 7, 2014, the Forest Service published an action proposing to amend its internal Agency directives for the National Forest System (NFS) to establish direction for management of groundwater resources on NFS lands.  The proposed amendment was intended to provide internal Agency direction on the consideration of groundwater resources in Agency activities, approvals, and authorizations; encourage source water protection and water conservation; establish systematic procedures for reviewing new proposals for groundwater withdrawals on NFS lands; and require the evaluation of potential impacts from groundwater withdrawals on public resources on NFS lands.
States and a number of other organizations raised concerns that the proposed directive would exceed the Agency’s authorities and infringe on state authorities to allocate water.  While maintaining that the proposed directives did not, and any future actions will not, infringe on state authority, the Forest Service has withdrawn the proposed directive and announced that next steps would be to establish a clearer and more consistent approach to evaluating and monitoring the effects of actions on groundwater resources of the National Forest System.  The Agency plans to have further discussions with key sectors and the public on this issue.  The Notice of Withdrawal appears in today’s Federal Register (80 FR 35299).