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Front Page » June 19, 2003 » Local News » Lawmakers review road, access issues
Published 3,962 days ago

Lawmakers review road, access issues


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter


The Price River flows from Scofield Reservoir through Carbon County, supplying water to treatment plants and irrigation canals or ditches. Early Utah settlers basically had free gratis to water from nearby rivers and streams. But when settlers moving down or upstream started to dig tunnels and canals to divert natural flows, officials recognized the need to establish distribution regulations and entities to monitor compliance to the guidelines.

The average person tends to take water for granted. People simply turn on the tap and the water flows freely.

But for districts, cities and entities supplying water to homes and businesses, the process of securing the natural resources for customers is not a simple process.

Civilizations have risen and fallen on the availability of water. In the western United States, growth of metropolitan areas could not have taken place without organized storage and water distribution capabilities.

Providing a foundation for orderly, equitable allocation of water means establishing rules and designating a monitoring agency to enforce compliance.

In the early days of settlement in Utah, rivers and streams flowing by a specific location basically meant free gratis for people to utilize the water. But when settlers moving down or upstream started to dig tunnels and canals to divert natural flows, it became apparent a set of rules and a governing body were needed.

By the time Utah became a state, many territorial rules on water had been established, growing from the experience of local entities and expanding to meet regional administration needs.

With statehood came the Utah water codes and the establishment of a state engineer office. The engineer or division of water rights office was designed to control one of the most valuable resources in Utah.

From the beginning, it was confirmed that all of the water in Utah belongs to the state - not to one individual, business or entity. Water was declared as a public property administered by state government.

The law was established based on the prior appropriation or Colorado doctrine of water law.

In essence, the doctrine specified that all persons, corporations and municipalities have the right to use surface water for beneficial purposes.

The allocation of the water falls in the realm of the first in time, first in right concept.

The senior appropriator or the first person to use a source obtains the right to the water. The senior priority is held above junior appropriators who come along later and want water from the source.

Most western states follow the scheme to determine water rights. However, the states have established individual sets of laws and administrative water rights principles.

The Utah Division of Water Rights assumes several responsibilities regarding the natural resource. The state agency administering the appropriations and the process, the supervise the measurement and distribution of water lots, approve and monitor water rights transfers and also set the standards for the safety of dams and water handling facilities.

While most water in the state is appropriated, there are times when new water sources do become available.

An individual or organization who wants to claim the right to that water, must go through a complicated process to acquire the priority to the liquid.

The process includes filing an application with the state water engineers office and then the application goes through a series of legal hoops before rights are issued.

This process includes a 20 day protest period in which outside individuals may take advantage of once a legal notice of the proposed application is published in a local paper. At this point, protests may be filed at a public hearing on the specific matter.

While processing applications, the state engineers office looks at a number of factors including the following.

•State water engineers determine whether there is unappropriated water in the proposed source.

•Next, the state engineers must review if the new application would affect any rights that are currently in place.

•The engineers must then determine whether the plans for the water is practical and feasible.

•The applicant must have the financial ability to develop the water and to provide any work that is needed to utilize the liquid substance.

•The engineers then question if there are more beneficial uses for the water compared with the proposed application.

•Next, engineers question if any use or development will affect the natural stream environment negatively.

•Finally, will it affect the public welfare adversely.

For the state to administer water rights properly, Utah is divided up into various hydrologic areas. All in all, there are 50 of them in the state.

Within each area or river basin, the state engineers office has policies that set forth the management and administration of the water largely because downstream users are always impacted by upstream use.

To keep track of water rights, each right has a number assigned to it. The numbers in the code mean various things such as the location of the area it is in and the diversion point it comes from.

At present, there is somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 water rights of record in the state of Utah, all of which are kept track of at the engineers office.

Water rights in Utah can be bought or sold, as well as use of the water changed.

Utah water rights can also be abandoned or forfeited.

Abandoned water rights have less to do with time than it does with the intent of the user.

Forfeiture comes when a right is not used for five years.

Any water that comes back to the state because of abandonment or forfeiture becomes public property and can be reappropriated by the engineers office through an application process.


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