Al Swan - Realtor/Broker

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Water Rights - General Information


California law regarding water rights is extensive and can sometimes be complicated. However, I will attempt to keep in relatively simple in explaining the basics.

Purchasing real estate in California may include a water right. Water rights include the use of underground water, such as acquired through a well, and the use of surface water, such as from creeks, rivers, and lakes.

Basically, the state of California and the federal government owns all the water in the state. It is through licenses, permits, contracts, and government approval that individuals and entities are allowed to "use" the water. Therefore, a water right is not an ownership right, but rather a use right. It is a right to use a "reasonable" amount of water for a beneficial purpose.

The two common water rights that are recognized under California law are Riparian Rights and Appropriative Rights.

Riparian Water Rights

In California, an owner of land that is contiguous to a water source generally has a Riparian Water Right. Basically, most any land the touches or borders a creek, stream, river, or lake has a right to use the water for a reasonable and beneficial use.

Riparian rights in general, with some exceptions:

For additional information please see: California Water Board

Appropriative Water Rights

An appropriative right is basically the removal of water from a surface water source for delivery to non-adjacent (non-riparian) parcels. As with Riparian water rights, the right for the water is based upon a "reasonable and beneficial use".

Appropriative water rights in general: 

For additional information please see: California Water Board