Young Lawyers Division, 1017 UTBJ, Vol. 30, No. 5. 59

Author:Emily E. Lewis, J.
 
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Young Lawyers Division

Vol. 30 No. 5 Pg. 59

Utah Bar Journal

October, 2017

September, 2017

So I Got This Weird Summons...

Understanding the Utah Lake Jordan River Water Rights General Adjudication

Emily E. Lewis, J.

Attorneys along the Wasatch Front may have recently received inquiries from clients regarding a "weird summons" or a "strange letter about water." If you have not yet received a call, you most likely will in the foreseeable future. Welcome to the Utah Lake Jordan River Water Rights General Adjudication (ULJR Adjudication): it is big, it is old, and it is coming for the Salt Lake Valley.

This article provides a brief introduction to Utah water rights, discusses the purpose and components of a water rights general adjudication, and offers information relevant to addressing increased activity in the ULJR Adjudication area. While most people receiving ULJR Adjudication documents will not have a valid claim to water, for those who do, this process is extremely important to protect very valuable property rights. Understanding the general adjudication process will help you determine how best to advise your clients.

Water in Utah is the property of the public, subject to existing rights to the use thereof. Utah Code Ann. § 73-1-1. Water rights are established by demonstrating that water was put to use either prior to 1903 or 1935 (for groundwater) when Utah Appropriation statutes were passed or a claimant has completed the statutory appropriation process to obtain a water right. Water rights define who can use water, where users take water from, what water can be used for, and how much water users are entitled to. Without clearly defined water rights, it is impossible for society to meet the needs of today or plan for an increasingly drier and more complex future.

Water rights are real property rights but have key elements that make them distinct and different from traditional real property rights. For example, water rights are usufructuary rights, meaning you must use the water as stated under a water right or risk forfeiting the water back to the public. You may have heard the phrase "use it or lose it." Similarly, water is naturally found in a hydrologically connected system. Use in one part of the system can drastically impact use elsewhere. Accordingly, settling disagreements over water use often involves technical expertise and a larger watershed perspective.

To create stability, inventory the state's water rights, and resolve disputes, the Utah Legislature created a special statutory civil action process codified as Utah Code Title...

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