Flood Waters Legal Definition:

Waters which escape from a watercourse in great volume and flow over adjoining lands in no regular channel.

Related Terms: Surface Waters

In the 1944 case of Southern Pacific v Proebstel, the Supreme Court of Arizona wrote:

"Flood waters are distinguished from surface waters by the fact that the former have broken away from a stream, while the latter have not yet become part of a watercourse. The term flood waters is used to indicate waters which escape from a watercourse in great volume and flow over adjoining lands in no regular channel, though the fact that such errant waters make for themselves a temporary channel or follow some natural channel, gully or depression does not affect their character as flood waters or give to the course which they follow the character of a natural watercourse....

"[O]ne has the right to protect himself against flood waters, that is, waters of the character last described, and for that purpose to obstruct their flow onto his land, and this even though such obstruction causes the water to flow onto the land of another."

Four years previously, in Mogle v Moore, the Supreme Court of California had adopted these words:

"Flood waters are those which escape from a stream or other body of water and overflow the adjacent territory.

"Flood waters are distinguished from surface waters by the fact that the former have broken away from a stream, while the latter have not yet become part of a watercourse. The term flood waters is used to indicate waters which escape from a watercourse in great volume and flow over adjoining lands in no regular channel, though the fact that such errant waters make for themselves a temporary channel or follow some natural channel, gully or depression does not affect their character as flood waters or give to the course which they follow the character of a natural watercourse.

"It is also thoroughly settled that flood waters escaping from a stream are not surface waters and do not lose their character as flood waters while flowing wild over the country.... The waters are plainly flood waters breaking out of their channel and running wild, and as such each property owner threatened has the right to protect himself against them as best he can.... The waters are not surface waters in the technical sense, for they have already been gathered into a stream whence they have escaped....

"[O]ne has the right to protect himself against flood waters, that is, waters of the character last described, and for that purpose to obstruct their flow on to his land, and this even though such obstruction causes the water to flow on to the land of another."

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