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May 03, 23

This is a battle we here at Yellow Dog have watched for some time. Wednesday afternoon, Judge Derek Pullan of Utah’s 4th District Court ruled in favor of the public’s right to lawfully access and recreate on all of Utah’s public rivers and streams. It’s a victory that’s been a long time coming.

According to Thursday’s press release from the Utah Stream Access Coalition, the ruling culminates a lawsuit filed by the Utah Stream Access Coalition in 2010, which sought to declare the "Public Waters Access Act" unconstitutional.

The Act, contrary to its title, effectively disposed of the public's right to use over 2,700 miles of Utah's rivers and streams where they ostensibly cross over private property, many miles of which have benefited from publicly-funded habitat and stream bank restoration, flood abatement, and other projects. The lawsuit named as defendants the State of Utah and Victory Ranch, a Wasatch County development selling luxury home sites offering exclusive access to more than four miles of the Provo River, one of Utah's premier blue ribbon trout fisheries.

"This is a case where policy triumphed over profits; where law prevailed over lobbying" Coalition President Kris Olson said. "The rivers and streams of our state are gifts of providence, and the lifeblood of this arid land. Since before statehood, these rivers have been used by all, and we're grateful that the Court prevented that use from becoming exclusive to a privileged few."

In the 61-page decision, Judge Pullan noted that the Act served no trust or greater public purpose and substantially impaired the public's interest in the resource that remains, that is, the waters and streams of Utah. The Court observed that "Every parcel of public land, every reach of public water is unique. If Wasatch, Kodachrome Basin, and Snow Canyon State Parks were disposed of...the public's right to recreate in other places would be of little consolation."

In the ruling the Court prohibits Victory Ranch from any action which 'prohibits, prevents, impedes, limits or impairs the public's right to access the Upper Provo River where it flows through VRA's property,' and prohibits the State of Utah from enforcing the restrictions provided in the Act.

The Coalition gave a direct nod to its members and supporters who made this happen, but reminded that while this is a battle won, the war still continues. Two appeals are anticipated to move to the Utah Supreme Court. There's more work to come; take the opportunity to help out on this historic battle for stream access.

Make your voice heard, and take the time to consider donating to the Utah Stream Access Coalition. Support our rights to use our rivers and streams, now and for generations to come.