When we last met, we had barely scratched the surface of the study of water law. The first method of water allocation that we will discuss is called Riparian rights. Landowners bordering a waterway are considered riparians. It is by virtue of having land abutting water that gives them certain rights under the laws of most states in the United States. Historically, landowners next to water had great advantages over those landowners who had no ready access to water. It is easy to see why, aside from providing basic necessities such as food and water, access to the water allowed mills, later industrial uses and recreation.
Historically, American jurisdictions subscribed to a "natural flow" rule that gave every riparian owner to have the water in such a state that other users would not diminish the quality or quantity of the flow. Such theories proved to be impractical however, because any use would diminish the water in some perceptible way.
These days, most jurisdictions espouse a "reasonable use" principle. This does not mean that the use itself must be reasonable, but the use must be reason in relation to all other uses. The result of which is a confusing tangle of rights based on land ownership, land size, and proportions.
None the less, riparian rules apply in 29 states and are therefore important. These states however are generally ones where water is plentiful. Our next segment will examine prior appropriation, a method used when water is scarce.