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Water Rights General Adjudication: State Your Claim
January 29, 2020
Parsons Behle & Latimer Legal Briefings


The General Adjudication is an ongoing civil law action intended to inventory the existing use of, and resolve disputes over, Utah water rights. The goal is to create certainty for water users and for the State. The process involves (1) the State Engineer notifying potential claimants of the need to make a claim on existing water rights; (2) granting potential claimants a defined time to assert claims and to make any corrections to the official description of the water rights claimed; (3) the State Engineer reviewing submitted claims; (4) the State Engineer making recommendations to the presiding court as to what the claimed rights should be; (5) an opportunity for water right users to be heard if they dispute the State Engineer’s recommendation; and (6) the court issuing a Decree to define the claimed rights. The failure to assert a claim on a water right before it enters the Decree will result in the water right being disallowed and the claimant will lose the right to use water. Accordingly, it is critically important to make sure that you assert a claim for any water rights you own. 

Rather than attempting to define Utah’s exceedingly numerous water rights all at once, the State Engineer has divided the state into various watershed areas and subareas for purposes of the General Adjudication. If you are a water right owner of record, your first notice that the General Adjudication has reached your area will be a form letter to your mailing address of record entitled “Summons,” advising you that the General Adjudication is reviewing your subdivision.  Shortly thereafter, you will receive a “Notice to Submit Claims” on your water rights, which will contain specific details about the place, extent and type of use permitted by the specific right as well as a request that you assert your claim to the water right or risk forfeiture. You may also receive a notice that generally asks you to submit a claim on any existing water rights you own but which does not identify a specific right. From the issuance of the Notice to Submit Claims, water right holders have 90 days to submit claims to the State Engineer before they are disallowed. Claimants may seek an extension to the 90-day period. If a claimant fails to receive notice or determines ownership of an unclaimed right prior to the issuance of the Decree, there may be statutory mechanisms that allow you to assert your claim past the initial 90-day deadline.

If you believe you own a water right and become aware of the General Adjudication in your area, you must diligently act to file the claim with the State Engineer to ensure you do not lose the right – even if you do not receive a Summons or a Notice to Submit Claims. If you do not own any water rights, you have no obligation to act on the notice. To determine whether you have a water right that should be claimed, consider the sources of water that you use for your home or property.  If all your water is supplied by a public water supplier, you probably do not have a claim. Evaluate whether there are signs of water use on your property (e.g. wells, active use, or historical records) that could indicate the existence of a right. Appropriate counsel can help you navigate the questions raised by the General Adjudication.

Parsons Behle & Latimer has an active water law practice, and our attorneys can help you through the General Adjudication claims process throughout the state. Services include advising you on whether the information on a Notice to Submit Claims matches with your actual use, identifying any unknown water rights existing on your property, ensuring that all deadlines are met to include your water rights in the Decree, processing and submitting filings to the State Engineer or the court, remedying late filing of claims and answering any other questions you might have to help you secure your water rights.

To discuss this or other related matters, contact Cedar Cosner at (801) 532-1234 or send an email to ccosner@parsonsbehle.com.

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