As the imminent development of the Spanish Valley area looms, Grand County citizens must claim their water rights in the area. Assistant State Engineer Blake Bingham held an April 18 public hearing to explain the process to affected citizens.
“The state division of water rights is beginning its water rights adjudication process in Moab and all residents are getting summons letters from the state,” said Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency Manager Dana Van Horn.
“In the Western U.S., a basic principle is that we don’t have enough water for everyone to satisfy all the demands that they want,” Bingham explained. That’s why the State of Utah is not alone in implementing a process for the use of public water based on water rights, defined as the right to divert and beneficially use water from its natural source. Since its creation, Utah has maintained a principle of public ownership of water. “That’s why we have this doctrine of priority,” Bingham continued. “But we also have this doctrine of ‘use it or lose it.’”
This “use it or lose it” principle is the reason Grand County residents must now claim their water rights.
“If you don’t use your water right, it’s going downstream and it’s being used by someone else,” Bingham said. “If you fail to use that water, and entire communities are built on those junior water rights, and you suddenly 50 years later say you’re going to come use your water and you start diverting water, entire communities have become reliant on that water.”
Residents who received a summons to the April 18 public hearing will also receive a notice to file a claim for any water rights they believe they own. Both the notice and the claim form will be included in the packet.
“For those of you who are water rights owners with records, you’ll receive a claim form that’s already filled out,” Bingham declared. A blank form will be sent to those without a prior record of water rights. Bingham added, “We encourage people to call our office and we’ll help you fill the form out.”
The notice will be sent out on May 4, and residents will have 90 days once they receive a notice to file a claim. “If you feel like you need a little more time, you can request an extension within those 90 days for an extra 30 days,” Bingham added. After the 90-day period, the state will publish a list of unclaimed rights, after which residents will have another 90-day period to file an objection to any unclaimed rights. Once the objections are taken into account and the list of unclaimed rights is finalized, there will be no more claims allowed.
“It prohibits anyone filing a new diligence claim in that area,” Bingham said.
“We have received a ton of questions from citizens wondering why they are getting the letter and if they are going to lose their water rights,” said Van Horn. At the hearing, Bingham addressed the question, saying, “If you have a water right and you’re using it in line with how the state authorized, you have nothing to worry about as long as you file a claim within that 90-day period.” Unused water rights, however, will be forfeited. “Those water rights that have fallen into non-use for a period of seven years or more will be disallowed.”
Utah’s Division of Water Rights can be reached for questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 801-538-7240.