Although Utah water law is firmly linked to early farming and ranching practices, a major overhaul in the state's water statutes is not expected anytime soon.
Thus far, Utah water law has proven amazingly flexible in responding to the state's shift from an agriculture-driven economy and society to a more urban lifestyle. This is especially true along the Wasatch Front between Ogden and Provo where nearly 78 percent of the state's residents reside.Sen. Fred Finlinson, R-Salt Lake, an attorney heavily involved in developing Utah's water policies in the Legislature, sees little need to toy with a system that appears to be responding to the current changes.
"I think the open market has proven very effective in meeting our water needs," Finlinson said. "There may be some lag, but generally the water ends up where it is most needed."
In Utah, water rights are property rights. Water rights are not always tied directly to the land where the water is used, and often land and the water are sold as separate commodities.
The Legislature did pass a bill this year making it more difficult to export water out of the state. Finlinson said that particular bill was intended more to control water markets in rural southern Utah where much of the land is not in active production. It is intended to discourage out-of-state speculators from buying water rights and trying to ship the water to more lucrative markets in California, Nevada and Arizona.
"As long as the water stays in the state and we find ways to get it to where it is most needed, I don't see any need to play with our current water law," Finlinson said.