All water is public property. However, water rights allow owners to divert water from its natural source for beneficial purposes. The elements of a water right include:
• The extent and nature of beneficial use;
• The priority date;
• The quantity of water being diverted;
• The point of diversion and source of water; and
• The place of beneficial use.
If water rights were established before 1903 for surface water or before 1935 for ground water, then a diligence claim must be filed with the Utah Division of Water Rights. These claims are subject to judicial review and public notice. Additionally, they may be barred by court order in some areas.
How Do You Protect Your Water Rights?
Utah law promotes responsible water use — by encouraging reasonable development of water supplies and discouraging efforts to monopolize the resource. To this end, the state wants people who purchase water rights to put the resource to beneficial use.
According to the “use it or lose it statute,” Utah Code Section 73-1-4, when the owner of a water right “abandons or ceases to use all or a portion of a water right for a period of seven years, the water right or the unused portion of that water right is subject to forfeiture in accordance with Subsection (2)(c).”
However, there are numerous circumstances when the failure to continuously use water is excused, and thus, will exempt the water user from the forfeiture statute. A District Court will determine if these circumstances apply to the circumstances of the case before making a declaration of forfeiture.
A water right owner can file an Application for Nonuse of Water with the State Engineer, which will protect their water right from being forfeited during a period when water cannot be beneficially used due to unavoidable circumstances such as legal proceedings or economic depression.
How Can A Utah Water Rights Lawyer Help You?
Any water user with questions regarding the operation of the “use it or lose it” statute is advised to contact competent Heber lawyers specializing in the ownership, transfer and use of water rights. Because of the specialized nature of water rights law, it is important to speak with Heber City water rights attorneys with significant experience advising water users of their ownership rights. Let Gordon Law Group be your guide.