Riparian Rights Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Riparian Rights, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Riparian Rights?

(n) Reparian Rights are the inherent right an owner of a landed property situated in the banks of a river or collection of water have, to use the water in the river , ponds etc for the irrigation purpose or for consumption, subject to the rules existing in that state.

History and Meaning of Riparian Rights

Riparian rights refer to the privileges that landowners have when they own property adjacent to a water source such as a river, stream or lake. These rights assure the landowner access to and use of the water resource close to their land for domestic use, irrigation, or other lawful purposes. Riparian rights date several decades back to English common law when the King owned all the land and the public rights in water bodies like rivers and streams.

The king used his control to grant usage rights and ownership to land by the rivers. After the American Revolution, these rights went to various states under the common property law. Today, the legal system recognizes water rights as essential and defines them as a property interest that an individual property owner can buy, sell, and lease.

Examples of Riparian Rights

  1. A local homeowner owns land that borders a nearby stream. The downstream water quality has been degraded by a municipality, causing damage to the homeowner's land. The homeowner can file a lawsuit under their riparian rights and seek an injunction that restricts the municipality from causing further harm.
  2. A farmer who owns land upstream along a river may use the river to irrigate their crops under their riparian rights.
  3. A suburban landowner who owns property bordering a lake may have the right to utilize the lake for recreational purposes such as fishing or boating through their riparian rights.

Legal Terms Similar to Riparian Rights

  1. Water Rights - These are legal rights to use water in a specific way.
  2. Appropriative rights - Rights given to the first person who legally applies the water to a specific use, for example, irrigation or power.
  3. Littoral rights - Similar rights to riparian rights, but involve properties that border oceans and other tidal waters.