Over the past five years, the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Water Rights increased its number of claims processed by 78% while at the same time lowering its cost per claim.
Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau rank Utah as the third fastest growing state in the nation, with a population projected to double by 2065. Such rapid growth requires new development. New development requires water, which, consequently, requires water rights adjudication. Now more than ever, Utah needs an accelerated rate of water rights adjudication to fuel the state’s rapid growth and development.
Water Rights Adjudication and Goal to Improve
The Division of Water Rights’ water rights adjudication program helps bring certainty to the water rights record by defining existing rights, quantifying unknown rights, and submitting rights to district court to be confirmed by judicial decree.
In 2014, the division made the goal to increase the rate at which the state 1) evaluates water users’ claims and 2) makes recommendations to the court while providing due process and timely notice to water users.
Changes to Achieve the Goal
Management first changed its philosophy regarding the extent to which staff was expected to research and process each and every claim. Some claims are more straightforward than others, but the prevailing philosophy that each and every claim warranted staff effort to reduce the likelihood of an objection caused delays and lowered throughput results. Division leaders found a way to maximize the constraint (the bottleneck of the system) by focusing less on lower-risk claim work that could actually stop—effectively triaging the incoming work. The new process separated incoming work into two categories: labor-intensive claims and non-labor intensive claims. This allowed staff to focus its efforts where needed, which drastically increased the number of claims processed.
The division also focused on refining elements of the existing water rights adjudications processes and personnel structure that did not require funding or statutory revisions. By eliminating the extra statutory practices that had become entrenched in the adjudication process over the years, the department dramatically increased its claim processing times.
The division also recognized state statute existing at the time acted as a policy constraint. Having identified this, division leaders successfully petitioned the legislature to revise the statutory adjudication process. Steps were taken to change certain statutes that limited the division’s ability to process claims.
Results and Moving Forward
Measured over the past five years, the division now processes 78% more claims with the average cost per claim dropping from $1,500 to less than $1,000. Moving forward, the division will continue applying SUCCESS-framework concepts to all of its processes to further accelerate Utah’s rate of water rights adjudication.
Congratulations and thank you to the Division of Water Rights team for all of their hard work to provide more value for every taxpayer dollar invested!