Utah Supreme Court Allows Public Waters Access Act to Stand

From the Utah Stream Access Coalition:

Salt Lake City, Utah –

Today’s decision by the Utah Supreme Court ends a thirteen-year effort by the Utah Stream Access Coalition (the “Coalition”) to overturn the Public Waters Access Act of 2010 (the “PWAA”) and restore public access to Utah’s non-navigable rivers and streams. The Court ruled that the public’s access to these waterways, which the PWAA took away, is not rooted in or protected by the Utah State Constitution. Accordingly, the PWAA will stand.

While the Coalition is disappointed in the decision, it remains steadfast and measured in its mission. Today’s decision ends only one of several avenues by which the Coalition aims to restore public access to Utah’s rivers and streams. It will continue its efforts to have the State identify navigable waterways and declare them open to public recreational use, as it did successfully on the upper Weber River in 2017. And the Coalition will continue to
advocate for the repeal and/or amendment of the PWAA, which, contrary to its name, restricts the public’s ability to recreate on over 2,700 miles of Utah’s rivers and streams that comprise some 43% of Utah’s fishable waterways.

In 2015, the Coalition convinced Utah’s Third District Court that the uppermost 40 miles of the Weber River met the test of navigability based on evidence that the river was used for commercial purposes prior to Utah becoming a state. That ruling, which was affirmed by the Utah Supreme Court in 2017, means that the public has a right to use the beds and banks of the upper Weber River – and other navigable rivers in the State – for lawful recreational
purposes, in perpetuity.

The Coalition is committed to the principle that the waters flowing in all of Utah’s rivers and streams are owned by the public and therefore members of the public should have the right to make use of such waters for lawful recreational purposes, regardless of whether they are navigable or who holds title to the lands beneath them.