The Utah Stream Access Coalition filed a second lawsuit today to restore public access to Utah’s rivers and streams. The suit, filed in state court in Summit County, seeks confirmation of the navigability and public ownership of the bed of the Weber River, one of Utah’s premier canoeing and kayaking streams, and a publicly-funded blue ribbon trout fishery. The suit contends that the Weber is a “navigable river” because it has long served as a highway for public commerce and recreation. The Coalition has amassed a large body of historical evidence showing that the Weber and many other waters in Utah have been used extensively for log drives and other commercial purposes since before Utah’s statehood.
The beds of navigable rivers are public property up to the ordinary high water mark, and adjoining private property owners may not interfere with the public’s right to use the river corridor for lawful recreational purposes. These rights on navigable rivers are some of the oldest recognized rights in American Law.
The complaint targets landowners along Weber River who have interfered with the public’s rights of access to the river. One group of defendants posted signs at a public road crossing stating that the banks and bottom of the Weber River are private property, and that access to the river from the public right of way is forbidden. Another defendant built a barbed wire fence across the river which endangers boaters and hinders people travelling by foot along the river bed.
Until recently, all of Utah’s rivers and streams, whether navigable or not, were recognized as public waters open to public use. In 2010, the Utah Legislature passed a law that eliminates many public rights on non-navigable streams. In a separate case filed in November 2010, the Coalition challenged the constitutionality of this legislative give-away of public rights. Although the Coalition is confident of victory in that case, it will nevertheless pursue all available means of enforcing the public’s rights to public waters, including this case to confirm the navigability of the Weber River.