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Clarifying issues on California water rights laws

On Behalf of | Oct 4, 2023 | Business Law

If you are considering purchasing property in California or launching a business here, you’ll want to make sure you research state laws, building codes and other legal issues that may be relevant to your purchase. Laws regarding certain issues may be quite complex, which is why it’s also helpful to speak with someone who is well-versed in those topics. For example, water rights laws in this state are sometimes difficult to understand.

Several years after California obtained statehood, a system of governing waterways known as riparian rights took effect. This means that, if you purchase land that borders a waterway, such as a river, you’re entitled to use the water from the source. Learning more about these issues and other water rights laws can help property owners avoid legal problems.

Riparian rights versus appropriative rights

Riparian rights remain in effect even if you do not use the water that physically borders the land you own. Being contiguous to the land is the key factor that separates riparian rights from appropriative rights, which refer to usage rights for water away from the point of diversion, meaning the water doesn’t necessarily have to be touching the land that you own.

Appropriative rights apply to surface water and, in some cases, to groundwater (which exists at a subterranean level) as well. Another difference between these two types of water rights is that riparian rights are inherent with property ownership. This means that, if you sell your land, riparian rights transfer to the new owner with the title of the property.

Compensation for deferring use of riparian water rights

Some California property owners who have riparian rights to a waterway may agree to not use the water to which they’re entitled. Instead, they allow another party to use the water and receive compensation as part of the agreement. In such an agreement, you are not so much selling water as you are receiving compensation for granting use of the water to another party.

Complications may arise regarding riparian rights and appropriative rights

Perhaps you own property that borders a California waterway but have not used the land or water in a long time. If you decide to exercise dormant riparian water rights, it could cause someone who has appropriated the water to lose a portion of or all his or her water supply. In most cases, riparian rights supersede appropriative rights. Obtaining guidance and support from someone who is knowledgeable regarding water rights laws can help you resolve such issues in the swiftest and most economically feasible manner possible.