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.