Water Right in water law refers to the right of a user to use water from a water source, e.g., a river, stream, pond or source of groundwater. In areas with plentiful water and few users, such systems are generally not complicated or contentious. In other areas, especially arid areas where irrigation is practiced, such systems are often the source of conflict, both legal and physical. Some systems treat surface water and ground water in the same manner, while others use different principles for each.
In the United States, there are two divergent systems for determining water rights. Riparian water rights (derived from English common law) are common in the east and prior appropriation water rights (developed in Colorado and California) are common in the west. Each state has its own variations on these basic principles, as informed by custom, culture, geography, legislation and case law. California law, for example, includes elements of both systems. In general, a water right is established by obtaining an authorization from the state in the form of a water right permit. A legal right is formally consummated, or perfected, by exercising the water right permit and using the water for a beneficial purpose.
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