Ski-area operators and their federal landlord faced off in federal court Thursday, arguing over ownership of the resorts’ rights to water they use for snowmaking and other purposes.

Last year the Forest Service introduced a new rule in its ski-area permitting process that required ski areas to transfer some water rights to the federal government, arguing the water should stay connected to the publicly owned land. The Lakewood-based National Ski Areas Association — or NSAA — sued, calling the new permitting condition a federal takeover of private property that ski areas acquired legally through state water courts.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge William Martinez entertained oral arguments from both sides in a case that could decide the fate of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ski-area water rights.

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