Recreation advocates want waterway law revised UT-HB37

By Ryan Joyner
SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of Utahns raft, float and fish waterways such as the Provo River every year.
However, four years ago in 2010 the governor signed into law, HB80, a law affecting public waterways that changed how Utah defined river access. The law states that the the land underneath a waterway is included in the owner’s property rights, thus limiting what some argue as the public’s rights to rivers.

Members of the Utah Stream Access Coalition expressed frustration with current laws on Jan 14, during the night’s Republican legislative preview which was held in downtown Provo.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, called the past and future debates, “The Fisherman Wars.”

Chris Barkey, who has been heading the fight against this legislation for almost eight years, is back this year with hopes to overturn HB80. He said that Legislators face the continuing challenge of balancing property owner rights with the fact that courts and constitutions say waterways belong to the people.

HB37, supported by the Utah Stream Access Coalition, would reverse HB80.

During the legislative preview, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said that buying the rights from property owners is the direction he felt fly fishermen and other interested locals should take.

“Locals shouldn’t have to buy the rights when private landowners receive state tax dollars for flood damage, and the benefits of [the state] stocking the rivers with fish,” said Barkey. “Utah citizens have the right to use of any of the waters in this state for useful or beneficial purpose. Isn’t recreating a useful or beneficial purpose?”

Water laws have a long history, with permissions for water access generally originating from the ideals of maintaining friendly commerce and transport.

While many of these one-way highways don’t serve commercial or transportation purposes today, industries like fly-fishing still depend on them.

If passed, HB37 would reestablish public access to sections of the Provo and Weber rivers by boat by creating free use of waterways up to the high water mark along the banks of all Utah rivers.

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