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Utah Limits Stream Access, AW Launches Survey

Posted: 05/07/2010
By: Kevin Colburn

In late March the Utah Governor passed legislation that allows landowners to prevent paddlers from traversing many of the state's rivers and streams.  When the law becomes effective in May of 2011, Utah residents and visitors will likely have to leave the state to enjoy public waters.  The new law crafted was in response to a 2008 lawsuit that confirmed the legal right to paddle rivers in Utah.  Unhappy with the decision, powerful property rights interests convinced the legislature to craft House Bill 141, which has now granted landowners the unprecedented right to prohibit paddling and angling on rivers flowing through their lands. 


The new law allows paddling, angling, and even the right to portage, but only if: 


1. The river is federally navigable (a strict definition involving commerce)

2. The river is entirely on public land;
3. You have permission from each riparian landowner to paddle the river reach;
4. The river/land is not posted, cultivated, fenced, and you have not been asked to leave; or
5. Recreationists can prove in a formal quiet title action that the reach has been used continuously during the recreation season for 10 consecutive years since September of1982, and that such use was open and notorious, adverse, and without interuption.  If permission was granted than use is not considered adverse, and if a landowner attempted to inhibit access in the 10 year period then such use is not consecutive. This unprecendented process sets a very high bar for families and individuals wanting to experience rivers.  In this legal proceeding the burden of proof is on the recreationist, and the winner can recover court costs from the loser.

The end result of the legislation is that any landowner can easily close a river reach if they so chose by simply posting, fencing, or just asking you to leave.


While paddling, angling, outdoor industry, and tourism interests fought hard against the bill, in the end the Governor of Utah sided with the anti-access group and signed the legislation. American Whitewater worked with local and regional groups to oppose this legislation but to no avail. For a great synopsis of the challenges faced in this process listen to this radio interview with the president of the Outdoor Industry Association.


To gain some limited perspective on which rivers the public may be able to secure access to, American Whitewater has put together a simple survey to log river visits. Dust off those paddling and angling journals and tackle the survey below!

Click here to take survey

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