Water right

Water right in water law refers to the right of a user to use water from a water source, e.g., a river, stream, pond or source of groundwater. In areas with plentiful water and few users, such systems are generally not complicated or contentious. In other areas, especially arid areas where irrigation is practiced, such systems are often the source of conflict, both legal and physical. Some systems treat surface water and ground water in the same manner, while others use different principles for each. Water rights generally emerge from a person's ownership of the land bordering the banks of a watercourse or from a person's actual use of a watercourse. Water rights are conferred and regulated by judge-made Common Law, state and federal legislative bodies, and other government departments. Water rights can also be created by contract, as when one person transfers his water rights to another. In the eighteenth century, regulation of water was primarily governed by custom and practice. As the U.S. population expanded over the next two centuries, however, and the use of water for agrarian and domestic purposes increased, water became viewed as a finite and frequently scarce resource. As a result, laws were passed to establish guidelines for the fair distribution of this resource. Courts began developing common-law doctrines to accommodate landowners who asserted competing claims over a body of water. These doctrines govern three areas: riparian rights, surface water rights, and underground water rights. An owner or possessor of land that abuts a natural stream, river, pond, or lake is called a riparian owner or proprietor. The law gives riparian owners certain rights to water that are incident to possession of the adjacent land. Depending on the jurisdiction in which a watercourse is located, riparian rights generally fall into one of three categories. First, riparian owners may be entitled to the "natural flow" of a watercourse. Under the natural flow doctrine, riparian owners have a right to enjoy the natural ondition of a watercourse, undiminished in quantity or quality by other riparian owners. Every riparian owner enjoys this right to the same extent and degree, and each such owner maintains a qualified right to use the water for domestic purposes, such as drinking and bathing. However, this qualified right does not entitle riparian owners to transport water away from the land abutting the watercourse. Nor does it permit riparian owners to use the water for most irrigation projects or commercial enterprises. Sprinkling gardens and watering animals are normally considered permissible uses under the natural flow doctrine of riparian rights. Second, riparian owners may be entitled to the "reasonable use" of a watercourse. States that recognize the reasonable use doctrine found the natural flow doctrine too restrictive. During the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, some U.S. courts applied the natural flow doctrine to prohibit riparian owners from detaining or diverting a watercourse for commercial development, such as manufacturing and milling, because such development impermissibly altered the water's original condition. In replacing the natural flow doctrine, a majority of jurisdictions in the United States now permit riparian owners to make any reasonable use of water that does not unduly interfere with the competing rights and interests of other riparian owners. Unlike the natural flow doctrine, which seeks to preserve water in its original condition, the reasonable use doctrine facilitates domestic and commercial endeavors that are carried out in a productive and reasonable manner. When two riparian owners assert competing claims over the exercise of certain water rights, courts applying the reasonable use doctrine generally attempt to measure the economic value of the water rights to each owner. Courts also try to evaluate the prospective value to society that would result from a riparian owner's proposed use, as well as its probable costs. No single factor is decisive in a court's analysis.