Water Rights


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

What is ‘Water Rights’

Water rights are one of the interests that may attach to real estate ownership, and pertain to the rights to use adjacent bodies of water. Riparian rights are awarded to land owners whose property is located along a river, stream or lake. Typically, landowners have the right to use the water as long as such use does not harm upstream or downstream neighbors. In the event the water is a non-navigable waterway, the landowner generally owns the land beneath the water to the exact center of the waterway.

Explaining ‘Water Rights’

Littoral rights pertain to landowners whose land border large, navigable lakes and oceans. Landowners with littoral rights have unrestricted access to the waters but own the land only to the median high-water mark.

After this point, the land is owned by the government. Water rights are appurtenant, meaning they are attached to the land and not to the owner. In other words, if a ocean front property is sold, the new owner gains the littoral rights; the seller relinquishes his or her rights.

Further Reading

  • The economic and financial gains from water markets in Chile – www.sciencedirect.com [PDF]
  • Formal water markets: why, when, and how to introduce tradable water rights – academic.oup.com [PDF]
  • Markets in tradable water rights: Potential for efficiency gains in developing country water resource allocation – www.sciencedirect.com [PDF]
  • Financing irrigation water management and infrastructure: A review – www.tandfonline.com [PDF]
  • The uses of the practicably irrigable acreage standard in the quantification of reserved water rights – heinonline.org [PDF]
  • Economic and financial returns from Chile's water markets – link.springer.com [PDF]
  • Water as an Economic Good and Demand Management – www.tandfonline.com [PDF]
  • Power, nature and neoliberalism: the political ecology of water in Chile – onlinelibrary.wiley.com [PDF]
  • Meeting water needs in developing countries: Resolving issues in establishing tradable water rights – link.springer.com [PDF]
  • Comments on Current Issues: The" New" Arizona v. California: Practicably Irrigable Acreage and Economic Feasibility – www.jstor.org [PDF]