Attorney Jon Schutz will give audiences a splash of water history in the West |

Attorney Jon Schutz will give audiences a splash of water history in the West

Park City Library will host lecture on Oct. 27

Water rights attorney Jonathan Schutz will discuss the history of water rights in Utah during the next Utah History Lecture on Oct. 27, at the Park City Library.
(Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

Park City has a water supply thanks to its mining history.

“Before there was a big municipal need, there was a need for water and mining,” said Jonathan Schutz, a water rights attorney for the firm Mabey Wright & James based in Salt Lake City. “It was important to do the mining, but also important to get rid of the water while they were doing the mining.”

Miners had to pump the water out, and one of the main tunnels used as a waterway was the Ontario Drain Tunnel, which would direct the water to open ground at lower elevations.

As the mines shut down and the town began to develop, the water still in the mines was tapped to become Park City’s water supplies, said Schutz.

“The old water rights from the mining tunnels have been converted to municipal use,” he said. “Park City’s water is interesting because it stems from its mining legacy.”

Schutz, author of “An Overview of Utah Water Rights Law,” will expand on this and the history of water in the West when he gives the next free presentation of the Utah History Lecture Series at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27, at the Park City Library’s Community Room, 1255 Park Ave. The lecture series is a partnership between Park City Municipal, the Park City Library and Park City resident Rebecca Marriott Champion. Schutz will give an overview of the history of water as it pertains to the Western United States.

“The Mormon Pioneers were the first Anglo-Saxons in modern history to do large-scale artificial irrigation, and that experiment basically became the Bureau of Reclamation,” Schutz said.

Park City Manager Diane Foster said she is amazed at how the pioneers turned the desert into a place that could sustain crops.

“I can’t imagine the challenges faced by those who traveled across the country and settled in Utah,” she said. ‘It will be great to have the chance to learn more about how people dealt with the challenges of water scarcity.”

Schutz’s presentation will illustrate his lecture with archive photos.

“I’m collecting as old as images I can because I want to illustrate that the Mormons had pumps and irrigation ditches in front of their homes,” he said.

One of the key points Schutz will target is how water laws stem from water needs.

“With mining and agriculture you have water that you want to irrigate from a stream,” he said. “So you have laws that basically try to manage water based on this geographic reality on the ground.”

Oftentimes, especially in mining, water exists where people don’t need it.

“So you have laws that allow you to move the water or transport it,” Schutz said. “These laws also protect the first person to receive it so no one in between can take it from them.”

Park City Attorney Mark Harrington said the lecture will give the public an idea of how cities use reference points to make plans for upcoming generations. “In order to play a meaningful role in land use planning for our future, you need to understand the history of growth — and you can’t understand the history of growth in Utah without understanding the history of water,” Harrington said.

Schutz’s fascination with water started in college. He earned an undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University, and went to University of California Davis.

“I went to law school, thinking I would practice immigration or environmental law,” he said.

That’s when he saw Jon H. Else and Linda Harrar’s “Cadillac Desert,” a four-part documentary that followed the history of water in the West.

“I fell in love with the history of the water, the conflict and economics of water,” he said. “I loved it because it’s complex and interesting, and because water is a basic and fundamental need.”

Schutz said he is also drawn to the unpredictability of water.

“You’re dealing with a finite resource that you can’t make any more of,” he said. “You don’t know how much will fall every year. And everybody who deals with it is invested in it. If you’re a farmer, it’s your livelihood. If you can’t get your water, you can’t grow your crops.”

As a water-rights attorney, Schutz has dealt with a lot of history.

“That’s what most of the conflicts I work on deal with,” he said. “The last case I had I was looking at a grandma’s journal from 100 years ago to try to figure out who did what and when. It’s so fascinating.”

Water rights attorney Jon Schutz will give a water-history presentation at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27, at the Park City Library’s Community Room, 1255 Park Ave. Refreshments will be served before the lecture. Although the event is free and open to the public, RSVPs are suggested. To RSVP, email Katie Madsen.

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