Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A committee of lawmakers endorsed a concurrent resolution Friday that makes sure the federal government knows Utah's livestock producers have a right to put their water to use for the benefit of their cattle.
Ranchers who have grazing allotments on federal land often have improvements they need to make so thirsty cattle get their fill. The water, held by ranchers, may need to be moved from one place to another via pipelines to disperse the cattle and keep them from trampling the forage.
"One of the biggest problems we have with livestock is when they concentrate in one area for too long," said Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal.
His resolution, SJR4, reiterates the "sovereignty" of those rights held by ranchers and warns agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service to not interfere with them.
The measure is a nod to the tension that has erupted between the federal government and cattle ranchers in the West, ski resorts and others who hold water rights.
Sterling Brown, with the Utah Farm Bureau, said the Forest Service came out with a statement in 2008 that said "livestock water rights for grazing allotments" should be put in the name of the United States.
Four years later, he added, there was a confrontation between land agencies and Tooele ranchers in which water rights became the subject of a tug of war.
Although agencies have since backed off, Brown said concern remains over keeping those rights intact.
"There has been an encroachment by the Forest Service in what we view is to help capture those water rights," he said. "We feel this resolution will help state for the record that these water rights, if used by grazers for beneficial use, should be held for them on public lands."
Utah is a "livestock state" that recognizes the benefits that cattle confer on pubic lands, including keeping vegetative overgrowth at bay and thus reducing wildfire threats, Brown said.
"Cattle are one way to properly manage public lands," he said. "We have deemed much of our livestock as firefighting cows because they have helped reduce fires out there."
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