ADJUDICATION

Revised: May 9, 2016

General Water Rights Adjudications are a critical piece of the statewide program to create and maintain a complete record of water rights.  The water rights adjudication process helps to bring order and certainty to the water rights record throughout the state by defining existing rights, quantifying unknown rights, and removing unused and abandoned rights from the record through judicial decree.  Under the direction of the district court, the State Engineer provides notice to all potential water right claimants to submit claims, publishes and files a List of Unclaimed Rights with the district court, evaluates filed water userís claims, prepares a hydrographic survey map, and then prepares and files a Proposed Determination of water rights in the district court.  Water users have the opportunity to contest the List of Unclaimed Rights and the Proposed Determination by filing an objection with the district court.  Objections must be resolved before the court can render a decree on either the List of Unclaimed Rights or the Proposed Determination.

All of the hydrologic areas within the State of Utah are currently involved in a court-ordered adjudication of water rights except the Weber River, Sevier River, and Green River drainages.  The water rights on the Sevier and Weber Rivers were adjudicated and decreed in the 1920's and 1930's.  The adjudications in most of the other areas of the state were started in the 1950's through the early 1970's.

Utah Code Title 73, Chapter 4 governs water right adjudications and defines the overall process.  The following summary of the adjudication process is for convenience only and is not meant to represent the entirety of requirements, obligations, or limits of the statute.  As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal counsel or other competent advisers.

  1. Petition or Court Order: The water rights adjudication process is typically initiated one of two ways. Water users may petition the State Engineer to file an action in the respective district court to initiate an adjudication; alternatively, a suit involving several water rights might be converted into a general water rights adjudication by the court. This has already occurred within each of the 15 major drainages in the State of Utah. (Utah Code 73-4-1)

  2. General Notice: For each area, division, or subdivision, the State Engineer publishes notice in a newspaper designated by the court once a week for two consecutive weeks. The notice provides the name of the action, location of the court, and name of the water source involved. (UCA 73-4-3)

  3. Summons: For each area, division, or subdivision, the State Engineer serves a summons on potential claimants of record by mail. Summons is also published in a newspaper designated by the court once a week for five consecutive weeks. (Utah Code 73-4-4)

  4. First Public Meeting: The State Engineer holds a public meeting in the adjudication area, division, or subdivision to inform water right claimants about the process. (Utah Code 73-4-3)

  5. Notice to Submit Claims: After the initial public meeting, the State Engineer sends notice to claimants to file a statement of claim (i.e., water userís claim) along with a copy of the form or instructions on how to obtain one. (Utah Code 73-4-3)

  6. Claim Filing: Claimants have 90 days from the date of the notice in order to file a claim with the State Engineer or the respective district court. Claimants may request one 30-day extension by filing a written request with the State Engineer prior to the conclusion of the 90-day period. Claimants who fail to file a claim within the prescribed 90-day timeframe (or authorized extension) risk being prevented from asserting their claim in the future and having any unclaimed right deemed abandoned by the court. (Utah Code 73-4-3, 5, 9, and 10)

  7. List of Unclaimed Rights: After the conclusion of the 90-day claim filing period (plus any extensions), a List of Unclaimed Rights is published and filed with the court to document water rights that exist on the records of the State Engineer for which no claim was filed. The List of Unclaimed Rights is meant to provide additional notice regarding existing rights that may be subject to being deemed abandoned by the court. The State Engineer sends notice to claimants that the List of Unclaimed Rights has been filed and instructions on how to obtain a copy of the list and their obligation to file an objection within 90 days if dissatisfied. (Utah Code 73-4-9.5)

  8. Second Public Meeting: After filing the List of Unclaimed Rights, the State Engineer holds a public meeting in the adjudication area, division, or subdivision to explain the List of Unclaimed Rights to the claimants. (Utah Code 73-4-9.5)

  9. Objection Resolution & Decree: Individuals who disagree with the List of Unclaimed Rights have 90 days to file an objection and water userís claim with the court. They must also file a water userís claim with the State Engineer. Once objections (if any) are resolved, the court renders a decree on the List of Unclaimed Rights that: (1) identifies any rights to be removed from the list, (2) adjudges the unclaimed rights abandoned, and (3) prohibits future unknown claims from being asserted. (Utah Code 73-4-9.5)

  10. Proposed Determination: Once claimants have filed their respective water userís claims, the State Engineer evaluates and maps the claims and develops a Proposed Determination of water rights. Subsequent to the rendering of a decree on the List of Unclaimed Rights, the State Engineer files the Proposed Determination with the court and provides notice to claimants of how to view or obtain a copy of it and their obligation to file an objection within 90 days if dissatisfied. The Proposed Determination represents the State Engineerís official recommendation to the court as to the status and nature of water rights within the respective boundary. (Utah Code 73-4-11)

  11. Public Meeting: After filing the Proposed Determination, the State Engineer holds a public meeting in the adjudication area, division, or subdivision to explain the Proposed Determination to the claimants. (Utah Code 73-4-11)

  12. Final Summons: Following the notice of the Proposed Determination, the State Engineer makes a final search for potential claimants and publishes summons in a newspaper designated by the court once a week for five consecutive weeks. (Utah Code 73-4-22)

  13. Objection Resolution & Decree: Individuals who disagree with the Proposed Determination have 90 days to file an objection with the court. Once objections (if any) are resolved, the court renders a decree on the Proposed Determination. (Utah Code 73-4-12,15)

The Division of Water Rights is committed to helping water users navigate the water rights adjudication process and is available for public inquiry and assistance.