Utah’s Water World
How many movies have you seen at Utah’s favorite arty theater complex, The Broadway? Have you ever read the 2’ X 3’ plaque mounted on granite between the box office and the sidewalk? It’s a simple little monument to the “Beginning in America of modern irrigation in this vicinity on July 23rd and 24th by the Mormon Pioneers.” And here’s the rest of the story:
Precious desert water didn’t just come out of faucets when ol’ Brigham Young and his followers came to the capital city. It did, however, come flowing out of streams from our then-to-be-named canyons surrounding the valley floor. City Creek was the closest water source to where the white settlers camped and, “On July 24th this forenoon commenced planting our potatoes after which we turned the water upon them and gave the ground quite a soaking.” Here was the first garden and the first way to water as ditches were dug and the flows were trained and diverted downhill.
During the first decade in Salt Lake, the new Utahns figured out a logical distribution system to get the liquid gold to the best producing gardens and farms. You see, no one actually owns water rights in Utah. After all, it’s the State that oversees individual uses. Until recently, Utah law forbade us from legally collecting rainwater for our urban patches of tomatoes and cilantro.
In the early days, local bishops of the LDS Church throughout the state became the stewards of water control. In 1852, the territorial legislature (later the Utah State Legislature) granted authority to local courts to control and distribute water, then later authorized irrigation districts. Our water laws were fine-tuned in the 1880s and haven’t changed much since.
Water rights and water shares are extremely valuable for many reasons. You may or may not know that many of the world’s largest banks are slowly buying up water rights? Water is more precious than gold, and we only have so much of it to last.