Utah’s already-precarious stream access law is under fire again. The case represents a battle over the state’s poorly worded, and thereby weak, Public Trust Doctrine, which has little, if any, definition as it currently stands. The duties are held by the Legislature as “trustee” to the doctrine. This includes land, water, stream use, access, and appropriated water. Trust duties of the Legislature should be for the benefit of the public trust; instead the current case thrust forward by opponents of stream access will only benefit private interests.
At the moment, a new bill, HB68, is trying to designate HB141 as established “Utah Public Trust Doctrine.” HB141 is a new law that reversed the recreational easement established in Conatser v. Johnson, a 2008 Utah Supreme Court case that permitted the public to walk on the private bed of a public waterbody. Rep. Kay McCiff is claiming his past Legislation has done its duties and his bill (HB 141) is good enough.
HB 141 is presently under ligation in the courts. In the meantime, HB68 represents an attempt to cunningly cover for the bill under fire. Rep. McCiff is attempting to secure his legal framework with this new bill, HB68, at all costs, even if this means limiting the public drinking water and creating new terms for property rights.
AFFTA and USAC will launch another matching grant opportunity in the near future to assist with Rounds 2 and 3 . . . Stay tuned.
For live updates, visit the Utah Stream Access Coalition’s Facebook page.