Riparian property rights deal with the owners of lands adjoining streams, rivers, lakes, relating to the water and its usage. Ripa is a Latin word, which could be defined in English as a river. The term Riparian is defined as “pertaining to, or situated on, the bank of a river”. Established under the riparian doctrine, all owners of riparian land have the right to equally distributed water usage. This also means that an owner cannot interfere with the natural flow of the body of water.
In example, an owner cannot build a dam or a cut-off point in order to secure his quantity of water due to the impact of interference on another riparian land owners flow of water.
The property rights of ownership given to owners of riparian land consist of the following: the upland, the building and dock, the bottom land offshore from the lot, the aquatic vegetation growing from the bottomland, and the right to fish, swim, and boat on the entire lake surface in common with all the other riparian land owners.
Riparian land owners have similar benefits to owners of land with minerals underneath their soil. They can both be subjected to sale or conveyance separately from the land, since they are considered an interest in real property. Riparian property rights are not easements or appurtenances, they are natural property rights. Water rights are considered real property as long as they meet the description of riparian doctrine.
As an example of channeling the flow of water, let’s say I owned land on the bottom of a hill, and it is connected to a body of water. The property I own will naturally flood during rainy weather. If I was to build a dam to prevent my land from flooding, the water would be forced to go back uphill onto a neighbors property. For the damages my neighbor incurs, I would be liable. Your question must be, why? Well the answer to that is I intentionally diverted the water elsewhere due to my land being flooded.
The flood that occurred on my land was natural, but the flood that occurred on my neighbors land was not. With intent, I diverted the flow of water, you cannot blame nature for flooding your land, but if artificially done by an individual, in this case me, I am fully liable for the artificial flow of the water.
There are three theories to how the right to use water should be regulated. The riparian doctrine being the leader of the three, the second being the reasonable use doctrine. This doctrine has been implemented in some states wherein common law or uninterrupted flow doctrine had been modified by court decisions and statutes.
The third theory is implemented in western or arid states where they lack sufficient water or rainfall, it is known as the prior appropriation doctrine. This suggests that water use should be subjected to the states public demand of it. This goes particularly against the riparian doctrine because it asks to interrupt the uninterrupted flow of water. They would rather see the water be put to its best possible use.
Every state has its own demand based on its weather and geography. A state with surplus of water would support riparian rights while a state lacking water would prefer the prior appropriation doctrine. This is why the federal government regulates each state to a certain extent, and always leaves room for the state to adjust the law according to its comfort, residing within safe parameters for the general population. This is how fairness gets leveled up in our country, that of checks and balances.