About the Utah Division of Water Rights

For more information, visit the Utah Division of Water Rights Web site.

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THE UTAH DIVISION OF WATER RIGHTS, led by the State Engineer, Kent L. Jones, P.E., is an agency of Utah State government within the Department of Natural Resources that administers the appropriation and distribution of the state's valuable water resources. In addition, the DWRi regulates dam safety, stream alterations, well drilling, and other programs.

The mission of the Division of Water Rights is to provide order and certainty in the beneficial use of Utah's water.

Range cattle
Photo by Bob Fotheringham

Water is both Utah's opportunity and its limitation, and must be managed intelligently. According to Utah water rights law, Title 73, water is the "property off the public" and should be put to "beneficial use." The code states, "Beneficial use shall be the basis, the measure and the limit to the use of water in this state." Utah water law is also based on "prior appropriation." When several people use water from the same source, "the one first in time shall be the one first in rights."

The division administers Utah's water by regulating water right matters such as appropriation, distribution and adjudication of surface and ground water. In addition, dam safety, stream alterations and well drilling are regulated by the division.

The mission of the Division of Water Rights is to provide order and certainty in the beneficial use of Utah's water.

State Engineer

The State Engineer directs the Division of Water Rights. He is appointed by the governor with consent of the senate and serves a four-year term. The code states, "The state engineer shall be responsible for the general administrative supervision of the waters of the state and the measurement, appropriation, apportionment and distribution of those waters."

Icy morning
Photo by Mike Silva


The office of the State Engineer was created in 1897. In 1903, Utah surface water law was established. Legislation passed in 1919 for adjudicating water rights and for governing dam safety. In 1935, groundwater was included in the water law. The name of the State Engineer's Office was changed in 1963 to The Division of Water Rights.

Responsibilities and functions

The Division of Water Right's administrative responsibilities are divided into categories as follows:

Water right application & records: The State Engineer approves all applications to use water in the state and maintains a comprehensive set of water right records, in files and online, assembled from his application approval responsibility.

Find out more about the Utah Division of Water Rights on the division's Web site: http://waterrights.utah.gov

Distribution: Water is distributed to water users on a priority basis. Where many users are competing for water from the same source, the State Engineer appoints a commissioner to oversee the day-to-day distribution of water.

Adjudication: The courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate ownership and validity of water rights. The State Engineer assists in this effort through investigations that compile proposed determinations of water rights for decree by district courts.

Well drilling: Regulates water well construction by licensing, registering and overseeing construction activities of over 330 water well drillers and drill rig operators.

Head gate
Photo by Robert Davis

Enforcement: Investigates and prosecutes violations of water right statutes with orders, fines and litigation when necessary

Dam safety: Inspects approximately 400 public and private dams yearly. Inspections are based on a dam's hazard rating for loss of life and property.

Stream channel alterations: Administers alterations to natural streams under terms of the Utah Code in conjunction with a general regional permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Water resource studies: Conducts quality/quantity studies of various river basins and hydrologic areas of the state in conjunction with the Utah Geological Survey, the U.S. Geological Service, Utah State University and others.

Organization: The State Engineer has divided program responsibilities among four sections located in Salt Lake City. These sections are; Applications and Records, Field Services, Dam Safety/Stream Alterations, and Technical Services/Special Studies. Much of the day-to-day work performed for each section program is completed by staff in one of seven Regional Offices that are responsible for a specific geographic region of the state. The staff is sometimes referred to as "The State Engineers Office" but is more appropriately called the Utah Division of Water Rights, an agency within the Utah Department of Natural Resources

Photo by Bret Dixon

State Engineer's role

The State Engineer's responsibility is to manage the state's water resources, providing citizens opportunity to make beneficial use of the waters while protecting prior rights and the welfare interests of the public. New uses of water or a change in existing use must be approved by the State Engineer prior to the undertaking. Once a use is authorized, the State Engineer monitors development to assure the use actually occurs before a permanent or perfected water right certificate is issued. Once perfected, a water right is a permanent right as long as the use persists, but the right can be lost or forfeited through neglect (failure to continue to beneficially use the water). That policy is necessary to encourage movement of water rights to those seeking to place water to beneficial use rather than just being held by those attempting to monopolize the resource.


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