Public Waters/Right-to-Use Case
The Coalition brought this case to overturn Utah’s ill-named Public Waters Access Act (HB 141) on constitutional grounds. In 2008, in the case of Conatser v. Johnson, the Utah Supreme Court unanimously held that the public’s right to lawfully access and use its public waters in place for any lawful activity, including recreation, allowed the public to reasonably touch the privately-owned beds of public waters in ways incident and necessary to such use. In 2010, with passage of HB 141, the Utah legislature purported to overrule the Conatser decision and to abolish the public’s right to touch privately-owned streambeds when using public waters in place. The Coalition contends that the public’s right to use public waters in place was recognized and confirmed in the Utah Constitution at statehood and that HB 141 violates this right. It further contends that HB 141 violates constitutional and other public trust and separation of powers principles. A favorable ruling in this case will restore the public’s right to use public waters in place as confirmed in Conatser.
PRESS RELEASE; Monday, May 21, 2012
Issued by: The Utah Stream Access Coalition
COURT MAKES KEY RULINGS IN FAVOR OF PUBLIC ACCESS TO UTAH STREAMS
Today, Judge Derek Pullan of Utah’s 4th District Court issued a much-anticipated decision in the Utah Stream Access Coalition’s constitutional challenge to Utah’s Public Waters Access Act, also known as H.B. 141. While the decision in Utah Stream Access Coalition v. ATC Realty, et al., did not fully resolve all stream access issues in Utah , it did resolve several highly-contested issues in favor of stream access, including: (a) the waters flowing in Utah’s rivers and streams are and have always been owned by the public; (b) the public has an easement to use its public waters in place for any lawful purpose, including all recreational activities that use the waters; (c) these rights are protected by Utah’s Constitution; and (d) legislative authority to regulate the public’s right to use its public waters in place is limited by public trust principles. Judge Pullan also ruled that the Legislature exceeded its legislative powers under the Utah Constitution when it passed H.B. 141.
Judge Pullan requested further briefing on whether H.B. 141’s access restrictions violate public trust principles. USAC counsel is working on the supplemental briefing and is cautiously optimistic that those efforts will result in a favorable ruling on that issue.
PRESS RELEASE; November 12, 2010; Salt Lake City, Utah
PUBLIC INTEREST GROUP FILES SUIT TO RESTORE ACCESS TO UTAH’S RIVERS AND STREAMS
The Utah Stream Access Coalition, a newly-formed public interest group, filed suit today to restore public access to hundreds of miles of Utah rivers and streams.
The suit, filed in state court in Wasatch County, challenges the constitutionality of Utah’s Public Waters Access Act, which was passed by the 2010 Utah legislature. The Coalition’s complaint names as defendants the owners of 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, publicly-funded blue ribbon trout fisheries. The suit also names as defendants the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner, two agencies charged with enforcement of the Act.
Ever since the pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley, the waters in Utah’s rivers and streams have been owned by the people and managed by the territorial and state governments in trust for the benefit of the people. Brigham Young confirmed this principle his second day in the Valley when he proclaimed that there would be no private ownership of water.
The Coalition filed suit because the Act, contrary to its title, abandons this fundamental principle of Utah law and prohibits public access to hundreds of miles of rivers and streams in Utah, many of which have benefited from publicly-funded habitat restoration, stream bank restoration and other projects, and effectively gives riparian landowners exclusive rights to access and use these valuable public resources and to sell that exclusive access to the highest bidder. From a legal perspective, the Act violates the State’s obligation to hold and manage Utah’s public waters in trust for the benefit of the people.
An essential function of the courts is to correct governmental breaches of the public trust and the Coalition looks to Utah’s courts to do that here.
USAC Filings – Complaint, Motion For Summary Judgment, and Memoranda:
Download PDF – USAC/Public Waters Complaint
USAC v ATC Realty Sixteen – Motion For Summary Judgment Oral Argument Requested
USAC v ATC Realty Sixteen – Memorandum In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment
Coalition Memorandum In Reply To State & ATC’s Memoranda In Opposition
USACs Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgement
Letter, Cross Motion For Summary Judgment, Memoranda, and Declarations of Opposing Parties:
Letter From Steven Clyde Informing Victory Ranch And Silver Creek Robert Larsen Investors Conveyed Interest To Wells Fargo
USAC v ATC Realty Sixteen – Motion For Summary Judgment
USAC v ATC Realty Sixteen – Memorandum In Support Of Cross Motion For Summary Judgment
USAC v ATC Realty Sixteen – Combined Memorandum In Support Of States Motion For Summary Judgment And In Opposition To Plaintiffs Motion For Summary Judgment
USAC v ATC Realty Sixteen – Memorandum In Support Of Cross Motion For Summary Judgment And In Opposition To Plaintiff Utah Stream Access Coalitions Motion For Summary Judgment
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
In order are the briefs filed by the State and the briefs filed by ATC regarding public trust. Along with our reply to those filings. Now we wait for word from the court.
State’sBrief; Motion to Substitute
Supplemental Memorandum – Public Trust Doctrine.pdf
USAC — ATC — Stipulated Motion to Substitute (EPL 10.17.12).docx
Reply to Amicus Curiae, Request for Decision