Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stream & River Access Rights in Utah

When I was growing up and learning to fly fish, my Dad and I would sometimes encounter areas where a stream or river crossed private land. I can remember him explaining to me that through the wisdom of lawmakers that had gone before, the right to access the water and make use of this valuable public resource had been preserved by law. While he taught me the importance of respecting private lands, many times he mentioned how the scarcity of water in a desert state had been prudently safeguarded so that the wealthy few could not prohibit access to tremendously valuable public waterways.

I was surprised in the year 2000 when a man by the name of Kevin Conatser along with some of his family members were cited by a local Sherriff for trespassing after they floated a rubber raft down a public river that crossed private land. I then felt as if the public’s collective cheese had been left hanging in the wind when a lesser court upheld the charge, citing of all things a Wyoming law!


Happily this was appealed to the Supreme Court, which threw out the ridiculous ruling of the lower court and clarified that the public had an easement to access rivers and streams (which are public property) and to use the State’s waterways for recreation. (

It is my understanding that legislation will likely be introduced shortly to change the law in order to circumvent or invalidate this ruling. If you believe as I do (that water in a desert state should be a public resource, not a privilege enjoyed by the wealthy few) then follow this link and contact your representatives accordingly:

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