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Editor's Notebook Utah

Utahns Win Five-Year Battle for Stream Access

by Ross Purnell, Editor   |  November 5th, 2015 0
Provo River

The Utah Stream Access Coalition expects the fight over access to the Provo and other rivers to continue at the Utah State Supreme Court. This Adam Barker photo is from the April-May 2011 issue of FLY FISHERMAN and the story “Locked Out” by Brett Prettyman.

On Nov. 4, 2015, Judge Derek Pullan of Utah’s 4th District Court ruled in favor the public’s right to lawfully access and recreate on Utah’s public rivers and streams.

The ruling culminates a lawsuit filed by the Utah Stream Access Coalition in 2010, which sought to declare the “Public Waters Access Act” unconstitutional. The ignominiously named Act, contrary to its title, removed of the public’s right to use over 2,700 miles of Utah’s rivers and streams, many miles of which have benefited from publicly-funded habitat and stream bank restoration, flood abatement, and other projects. The lawsuit named as defendants the State of Utah and Victory Ranch, a Wasatch County development selling luxury home sites offering exclusive access to more than four miles of the Provo River, one of Utah’s premier blue ribbon trout fisheries.
“This is a case where policy triumphed over profits; where law prevailed over lobbying” Coalition 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.”
In the 61-page decsion, Judge Pullan noted that the 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. The Court observed that “Every parcel of public land, every reach of public water is unique. If Wasatch, Kodachrome Basin, and Snow Canyon State Parks were disposed of…the public’s right to recreate in other places would be of little consolation.”
Public access to parts of the Provo and Weber rivers was taken away by the so-called Stream Access law (HB141). This Adam Barker photo is from the April-May 2011 issue of FLY FISHERMAN and the story "Locked Out" by Brett Prettyman

Public access to parts of the Provo and Weber rivers was taken away by the so-called Stream Access law (HB141). This Adam Barker photo is from the April-May 2011 issue of FLY FISHERMAN and the story “Locked Out” by Brett Prettyman

In the ruling the Court prohibits Victory Ranch from any action which ‘prohibits, prevents, impedes, limits or impairs the public’s right to access the Upper Provo River where it flows through VRA’s property,’ and prohibits the State of Utah from enforcing the restrictions provided in the Act.

A coalition newsletter says the decision is likely “only one more step toward resolution. While we have won both (the Weber and Provo) cases at the district court level, we still anticipate two appeals to the Utah Supreme Court.”
To join the coalition or to make a donation, visit www.utahstreamaccess.org. This is the single-most important issue facing the fly fishers of Utah and the entire nation is watching. If state government is able to hand the rivers of Utah over to private interests, then other states are more likely to follow suit and succeed.
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