Water Rights – What Kinds Are There?

What kind of surface water rights are there?  Here is the simple list:

  1. Riparian water right – a parcel that touches a stream, spring or lake may use a “reasonable and beneficial” amount, quantity and rate undefined, per the California Constitution, Article X, Section 2.
  2. Rancho water rights – granted by the government of Spain or Mexico, prior to Statehood in 1850.
  3. Pueblo water rights – granted by the government of Spain; most famously, the one belonging to Los Angeles.
  4. Appropriative water rights –  these were claimed and developed in 1913 and prior, aka “Pre-1914“, for parcels not touching a body of water.  These started with gold mining and are now mostly for agriculture.
  5. Appropriative Post-1914 – Since 1915, after an application is filed, a permit and then a license may be granted by the State Water Resources Control Board.
  6. Adjudicated – also called decreed, from lawsuits decided in Federal District or State Superior Court.
  7. Groundwater – pumped from a well, similar to surface water riparian but for the overlying land.
  8. Prescriptive – a right which may be gained by adverse possession of someone else’s unused right; these are not definites right until decreed by a court.
  9. Contracts – these are not rights but rely on some already-existing right.
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