Many of us can only dream of having a beautiful home overlooking sparkling open water. While living alongside a stream, river, or other small body of water can offer awe-inspiring views, there are some complications that can arise when you have a body of water on your property. If water runs through, next to, or near your property, you must be open to certain risks, such as flooding. You will also want to familiarize yourself with what are known as riparian rights.
Riparian Water Rights
In regards to water rights, the riparian doctrine states that water belongs to the individual whose land borders the body of water. Riparian rights are not ownership rights but the right to access the water for various purposes, such as swimming or boating. Property owners are permitted reasonable use of any body of water adjacent to their property, as long as it does not interfere with the reasonable use of the water by others with riparian rights.
Changes in Bodies of Water
A common problem that can occur for individuals with riparian rights is the natural changes that can occur in bodies of water. In some instances, a pond or lake can begin to dry up, causing the water to recede from its banks, revealing new land. When rainfall is heavy, a body of water may grow larger, possibly flooding an area of dry land. Riparian rights allow the owner the property rights to the new water line. When the owner gains newly exposed land due to water recession, it is known as rights of accretion.
With the right to use a body of water on or near your property comes several responsibilities. As a property owner, it is your responsibility to maintain the bed and banks of the body of water, including any trees or shrubs that grow on its banks. It is also your responsibility to clean up any litter or debris that may be present, even if it did not originate on your land. Owners must also not cause any pollution or obstruction of water flow.
Making alterations to a waterway on or near your property is not always possible. To determine if alterations are possible, you will need to gain approval from government sources. In most cases, a license or permit is needed if you wish to change a body of water in a way that affects its natural flow. This includes the installation of dams, mills, weirs, and channel diversions. If another person has already obtained a license to divert or use the water, you may need to determine who has priority rights over the water.
Transferring Riparian Rights
Some homeowners may want to transfer their riparian rights to another party, especially if they do not want to have the responsibilities associated with the upkeep. However, riparian rights cannot be transferred or sold on their own. If you wish to sell or transfer riparian rights to another person, it must be transferred with the land itself, which means selling or transferring the rights to your property as a whole.