Last November, Utah anglers celebrated a district court ruling overturning a controversial waterway access law passed in 2010. The ruling deemed the ironically named Public Waters Access Act (House Bill 141)—which made it illegal to stop, step out, anchor, or incidentally touch the streambed of a waterway flowing through private property—unconstitutional, allowing anglers and other recreationalists the right to walk rivers and streams through privately held lands for the first time in more than a century. (Floating through private property on public waters while angling has always been legal.) The radical departure from tradition included access to several miles of public, blue-ribbon trout waters on the nearby Provo and Weber Rivers.
Members of the Utah Stream Access Coalition spearheaded the legal challenge to H.B. 141, maintaining that hundreds of miles of public water running through private lands have benefited from habitat and flood abatement projects, paid for with public funds.
But, as most veteran observers expected, the celebration of H.B. 141’s demise was short-lived. In February, the Utah Supreme Court granted a stay to the district court’s November 2015 ruling after the state and property owners appealed the decision, arguing that further access to waters flowing through private land would result in major trespass, littering, and vandalism problems. As of press time, the district court had not revisited the case. And according to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Hadley, Utah’s half-a-million anglers, currently overcrowded on legally accessible public waters, should not expect a resolution to this issue anytime soon. “The court has not given us any indication when they might address the case again,” Hadley says. “The DWR hasn’t been asked to do anything in the interim except enforce the state’s laws as they now stand.”