career counselling

An overview on water rights

If you are wondering what water rights are then you are in the right place. You may ask yourself, how do water rights work? Water rights regulate water use by private and public landowners from a specific source and ensure fair water use. In this blog, we have simplified the concept of owning water shares.

What are water rights?

Water rights are legal rights to water from a specific source. Water rights are granted to particular entities, such as private companies or property owners. Water rights permit you to use, divert, manage, and sell the water. Water rights laws vary from one state to the next. Water permits are issued according to state laws and mandates.

Water rights may allow for water use from specified sources or surface water. Public ownership is given to surface waters such as streams and waters along the coast. Therefore, they are available to the public, except during drought emergencies.

Groundwater is water that comes from underground aquifers. The majority of water rights doctrine restricts water users to the reasonable use of a water supply. This means they can't exhaust the water source and prevent others from accessing it.

Understanding the differences between surface water and groundwater

Different types of water rights give owners the right to control water, either on the surface or on the ground. This article explains the differences between groundwater and surface water and how water rights work.

● Surface-water: Water that flows on the Earth's surface is called " surface water". It includes water found in rivers, lakes, streams, oceans, and other sources of water that are not underground. Many private surface water rights are subjected to state-law riparian, hybrid, and appropriative clauses.
● Groundwater: Groundwater is groundwater that is derived from underground sources. Groundwater can be used for domestic and agricultural purposes as well as irrigation. An allocation system allows public groundwater rights to be taken. Groundwater is usually owned by private individuals. Groundwater is pumped to different destinations depending on the acreage.

The different types of water rights

The two most important types of water rights are riparian water rights and prior appropriation water rights. There are also water rights that may not be available in all states. This is because water rights can vary greatly depending on their location. There are many water rights in the United States. These include the following:

Riparian water right

According to the riparian doctrine, landowners can legally use any watercourse that crosses their land and touch their property's borders. This is a type of surface water that usually refers to water in a body. Property owners may use water for their domestic purposes. However, it should not block other owners’ natural flow of water.

Non-riparian water right

Non-riparian rights are landowners' non-exclusive access to the water next to their property. Access to water is restricted in cities, towns, and municipalities. This is a widespread problem. The water may be restricted to a single person, limiting others' access. If there is access for the community to water, a landowner is considered no riparian.

Prior appropriation

According to the prior appropriation doctrine, only permit holders can divert water from a particular water source. If there is a water shortage, the oldest permit holder will have priority access to water. Permit holders may be allowed to sell their water rights separately from their land rights in some states. Rights holders may lose access to water rights through non-use, which is not the case with riparian rights.

Hybrid water right

Hybrid water rights are a combination of riparian rights with prior appropriation rights. This doctrine is most commonly followed in states with water shortages like Oklahoma, California, and Texas.

Absolute dominion

Absolute dominion allows landowners unrestricted access and control over a groundwater source.

Correlative rights

The Correlative Rights doctrine applies to groundwater rights in certain states. This doctrine says that landowners sharing a common water source are restricted to a reasonable amount of water and not as much as they wish.

Community water right

Users who live near a water source can have priority over those who are not.

Littoral Rights

Littoral rights refer to ownership of navigable waters such as lakes, seas, or oceans. This gives the owner unlimited access to the water source. After the sale of land, the littoral rights are transferred from the previous owner to the new owner.

Navigable servitude

Navigable servitude is the ability of the federal government to protect navigable waters for commerce, such as freight ships. These rights may also apply to owners of luxury boats and other recreational vessels.

Additional rights

California, for example, uses the doctrine of Correlative rights to regulate groundwater. It gives property owners the right to draw water from beneath their property. Sometimes, water may be transported outside a basin by the appropriator, but priority is given to the owner of overlying rights.


The doctrine and the state in which you reside will determine your water rights. The riparian doctrine is the most common in eastern states. The majority of western states adhere to a prior appropriation doctrine. We hope this blog has answered the question, of how to do water rights work. The buying and selling of water rights can be complicated, thus, many people solicit help from water brokers to simplify the process.