Natural Resources Division
The eleven attorneys in the Natural Resources Division provide general legal and litigation support to the Utah Department of Natural Resources and its various Divisions, including
- Water Resources
- Wildlife Resources
- Oil, Gas & Mining
- Parks & Recreation
- Water Rights (State Engineer’s Office)
- Forestry, Fire & State Lands
- Office of Energy & Resource Planning
The Natural Resources Division also represents the State of Utah in certain matters of Indian law.
Our attorneys are seasoned and maintain specific expertise in the fields of water rights, oil and gas, public lands, and Indian law. Our attorneys carry heavy caseloads and are routinely litigating against attorneys from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Dept. of Justice, and various environmental groups and major natural resources law firms from Utah and throughout the West.
Protecting Utah's Natural Resources From Federal Intrusion
Protection of the State’s natural resources and public rights-of-way is of extreme importance--particularly in light of ever-present and increasing intrusions by the federal government as to how Utah should manage its own natural resources. Many of the major cases currently being handled by the attorneys in the Natural Resources Division involve federal/state controversies. In addition, Utah’s interstate water allocations on the Colorado, Virgin and Bear Rivers must be protected as demands in other states increase, and increasing federal laws and regulations make it more and more difficult to develop Utah’s remaining water resources.
Major Cases and Controversies
- A lawsuit to prevent a statewide federal reinventory of wilderness, currently on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals
- Participating with rural counties in litigation to protect R.S. 2477 public rights-of-way across federal land
- Litigation with numerous environmental groups who are trying to force additional Colorado River deliveries to Mexico for the restoration of the Colorado River delta in Mexico
- Legal issues surrounding the creation/management of the new Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument
- Participating with Garfield County in litigation over the Burr Trail against the United States and environmental groups
- Litigation/negotiations with the United States involving federal reserved water rights claims for Indian reservations, national parks and forest service lands
- Litigation with the United States over ownership of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge which lies mostly on State land below the meander line of the Great Salt Lake
- Interstate water issues on the Colorado, Virgin and Bear Rivers to protect Utah’s compact apportionments to these vital water resources
- Utah Lake boundary negotiations/litigation
- Cases and issues relating to endangered species and wild & scenic rivers, including formulation of a Virgin River Management Plan
- Litigation on the Legacy Highway Project
- Administrative proceedings by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to assert federal jurisdiction over Bear Lake
- Litigation with the Bureau of Land Management over ownership of salt deposits in the West Desert
Water Rights General Adjudications
The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for representing the State Engineer in the twelve general water rights adjudication actions currently pending on most of the major water drainage systems in the State. These adjudication actions are pending in several of the judicial districts in which those drainage systems are located. This program consists of two attorneys working full time with the State Engineer’s Office on water rights adjudications. In addition, the two general fund attorneys in the Natural Resources Division assigned to the State Engineer’s Office also devote significant time to this effort. The program was set up four years ago by the Legislature to insure that at least two attorneys are working full time on these adjudications.
Our water adjudication attorneys work with the State Engineer’s staff in preparing recommendations to the various district courts on pending adjudication actions. Where disputes over those recommendations arise, the attorneys prepare answers and litigate or negotiate settlements of the various disputes. The adjudication of the tens of thousands of water rights throughout the State will provide certainty over water rights for thousands of water users. Some of these adjudication actions have been pending for more than 25 years, and we are making every effort to move the process along.
The general adjudication process also includes the various reserved water rights claims of the United States, including reserved water rights claims for Indian reservations, national parks and monuments, national wildlife refuges, and forest service lands. Under federal law, these claims must be adjudicated in State court as part of the general adjudication process. We have recently successfully negotiated a water rights settlement with the United States for Zion National Park, and we are currently attempting to reach similar settlements on other national park lands throughout the State. In addition, we have reached a water settlement with the Shivwits Band of Paiute Indians in Washington County, and we are continuing to negotiate with the Ute Indian Tribe on water issues.
Major Areas of Progress
- A landmark agreement settling the reserved water rights claims for Zion National Park was reached after four years of negotiation. We are negotiating similar settlements for other national parks and monuments in Utah.
- We are attempting to conclude the Ute Indian Water Compact, and we have recently reached settlement with the Shivwits Band of Paiute Indians in Washington County.
- Our water adjudication attorneys are currently concentrating their efforts on the Utah Lake/Jordan River, Southwestern Colorado River, Bear River, Virgin River and San Rafael River Adjudications. A final decree has been entered on a portion of the Southwestern Colorado River Adjudication, and a decree is within months of being entered on the Emigration Canyon portion of the Utah Lake/Jordan River Adjudication.