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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's highest court has ruled that streams and rivers are public even where the land under them is privately owned.
Friday's decision means landowners can't stop people from walking on and along riverbeds while fishing or floating.
The case turned on a Roy couple's trespassing citation in 2000 for leaving their raft to go fishing and take down some fencing that was strung across Weber River.
The ticket was dropped when Kevin and Jodi Conatser appealed a justice-court conviction, but they filed a civil suit to improve on state law that said they could touch a riverbed only to free a stuck raft or assist in floating. "I'd call it a landmark decision," said Robert H. Hughes, the couple's lawyer, who argued the case in April.
The Utah Supreme Court said people have to behave reasonably and cause no property damage when they wade or walk immediately along stream and river beds.
"Now we can float down that river without being worried about getting shot by that farmer," said Kevin Conatser, who said he has been shadowed by all-terrain vehicles and threatened on trips down the Weber River.
"If I had a stream in my backyard, I'd be concerned," said Ronald Russell, who represented ranchers with land along the Weber River in Morgan County.
Russell said his clients merely want to protect their property from damage to fences, barns and irrigation structures.
The decision doesn't let people walk along stream banks on private land or cross private property to reach water.
------ Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)