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California water rights can be confusing

Water rights govern how a person or entity can use, hold and distribute water on properties. Typically a person or business that owns land where there is running water cannot simply horde or withhold that water in an unnatural way without certain rights and permits. Owning the land is not the same thing as owning the water.

In California, there are numerous types of water rights. Some common rights include overlying, prescriptive, appropriative and riparian. These rights levels provide some structure on how and when water can be diverted. For example, riparian rights holders often have the priority for diverted water. Appropriative rights holders might only be able to divert water that is in excess of what the riparian rights holder needs.

Among appropriative rights holders in the same area or on the same watershed, some hierarchy exists. Some appropriative rights holders take priority over others, and that hierarchy can depend on how long a person has held the rights.

In just this short description, you can see how much confusion could arise over water rights. Even people with the rights can become confused on who or what business has priority, and legal battles are not foreign to this landscape at all. When conflict arises regarding water use and rights, judges or courts usually have to review all of the information and make decisions regarding who has priority and what use each entity is legally allowed.

If you are dealing with a water rights dispute, the legalities can become extremely complex. Working with a lawyer who understands natural resource law can be a good way to strengthen your case.

Source: California Water Impact Network, "California Water Rights Primer," accessed Aug. 19, 2016

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