Utah public stream access restored

Judge's ruling deems Public Waters Act unconstitutional
Upper Provo River
Utah's Upper Provo River (photo: Owen Xu).

After years of efforts by groups such as the Utah Stream Access Coalition (USAC), the public's right to access and recreate on all of Utah's public waterways was restored yesterday in a decision by Judge Derek Pullan of Utah's 4th District Court. The ruling concludes a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the USAC which claimed that the inappropriately named Public Waters Act, which previously barred the public from accessing public waterways where they crossed private property, was unconstitutional. Pullan's ruling affirmed the coalition's claim, restoring access rights in the process.

"This is a case where policy triumphed over profits; where law prevailed over lobbying," USAC President Kris Olson said. "The rivers and streams of our state are gifts of providence, and the lifeblood of this arid land. Since before statehood, these rivers have been used by all, and we're grateful that the Court prevented that use from becoming exclusive to a privileged few."

A focus of the lawsuit was the Upper Provo River, where it flows through name defendant Victory Ranch's property. According to Pullan's ruling, the ranch is barred from any action that "prohibits, prevents, impedes, limits or impairs the public's right to access the Upper Provo River where it flows through VRA's property." The ruling also prohibits the State of Utah from enforcing any restrictions provided in the Public Waters Act.

According to the USAC, Pullan's 61-page ruling noted that the Public Waters Act served "no trust or greater public purpose and substantially impaired the public's interest in the resource that remains, that is, the waters and streams of Utah."

Appeals to Pullan's decision are expected, but for now, anglers in the state of Utah and elsewhere are rejoicing.

For more information on the recent ruling, visit the USAC.