Water Problems here in Cache Valley
Due to low Bear Lake water levels last year, a group of farmers in the north end of the valley known as the Utah Small Pumpers Association, were ordered by the State Engineer to stop pumping water out of the Bear River. All but one pumper complied and stopped pumping water. Jerry Simmonds didn't stop pumping. He is a dairy famer and the corn he planted to feed his dairy cattle had not yet matured and needed more water. (No links are available to the two articles. I apologize. I'll summarize.) According to reports in the Herald Journal from March 13th and March 16th, the state obtained a restraining order halting Simmonds from pumping anymore water. As we discussed in class, the rule for water in the state is "first in time, first in right." Heather Shilton, Assistant Attorney General argued that Simmonds rights date to 1918. However, farmers in Box Elder County, down stream from Simmonds on the Bear River, have water rights that date back to 1889. The state argued that Simmonds could not pump water from the Bear River and deprive farmers farther down stream of their water. Simmonds agreed last week to not pump any water from the Bear River if ordered to do so by the State Engineer.
We hear about water rights problems all the time, but rarely here in Cache Valley. All who own water shares need to understand the rights that come with owning this water. A new law passed by the state legislature that is awaiting the governor's signature, would make those who unlawfully divert water punishable by a third degree felony. Before it was only a misdemeanor. As more and more problems arise because of the shortage of water, it seems the state is starting to take a bolder stand to protect water.