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Thousands of Utahns who don't have water rights are being 'summoned' to defend them

Utahns 'summoned to appear' to defend water rights, even though rights don’t exist (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Thousands of Salt Lake County residents are receiving notices in the mail that some are finding alarming.

The notices are accompanied by court papers that "summon" homeowners to appear to defend their water rights.

But the vast majority of the folks who get the letters do not have water rights.

Blake Bingham, with the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said the state is essentially going through a water-rights-book-keeping process.

A water right is generally associated with the use of water from a well, spring, or stream and does not include your water service connection to the local municipality.

State engineers are trying to determine who is using water that doesn't have a right to do so as well as who has a water right but isn't using the allocated water.

“We are trying to protect peoples' water rights by bringing them onto the record," Bingham said.

By law in Utah, people are required to use the water associated with their water rights or they lose the rights so that somebody else can use the water.

“It's, in essence, an effort to incentivise people to use the water for which they have a right,” he said.

The summons have already been sent to tens of thousands of homes and will likely be sent to hundreds of thousands more. Just because somebody receives a summons does not mean they have to do anything. Ignoring the summons will simply result in you not claiming a water right.

It's likely that people who receive the summons don't have a claim to water rights.

“For instance, the [Foothill Village Subdivision], we sent about 10,000 notices and there's only about 30-plus water rights of record that we have," Bingham said.

If you get one of these letters and aren't sure if you have water rights attached to your property, the Dept. of Natural Resources says you can give them a call and they can help you figure it out.

“If you have no claim to a valid water right, you are not obligated to take further action and may disregard the notice,” Bingham said.

Additional information about the water rights adjudication process can be found on the Division of Water Rights’ website.

If you have unanswered questions regarding the process, called, "adjudication," or your water rights you can contact the Division of Water Rights at (801) 538-5282.

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