Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Riparian Rights Definition:

Special rights of people who own land that runs into a water bank (a riparian owner is a person who owns land that runs into a river).

Related Terms: Avulsion, Alluvion

The bundle of rights of people who own land that runs into a body of water such as a stream, river or lake or ocean (a riparian owner is a person who owns land that runs into a river).

While not an ownership right, riparian rights include the right of access to, and use of the water for domestic purposes (bathing, cleaning and navigating).

The extent of these rights varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and may include the right to build a wharf outwards to a navigable depth or to take emergency measures to prevent flooding. 

In Wehby v Turpin,  the Alabama court wrote:

"The term riparian rights refers to the rights of owners of land abutting a stream, while the term littoral rights refers to the rights of owners of land abutting the surface waters of a lake or the sea.

"Courts now commonly use the word riparian when describing water rights in either context."

In Central Florida Investments, Inc. v. Orange County Code Enforcement Board (2001), Justice Sharp of the District Court of Appeal of Florida opined:

"Riparian rights consist of rights of ingress, egress, boating, bathing and fishing."

In Western Irrigation District v. Trobst, Justice Virtue of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench wrote:

"At common law the owner of land on the banks of a natural stream or watercourse is entitled to the enjoyment of what are commonly known as riparian rights. A riparian owner has a right to the ordinary use of the water which adjoins his land, as a natural incident of the ownership of the land itself, which does not depend upon the ownership of the land covered by the water.... Ordinary use, includes the reasonable use of water for domestic purposes, without restriction.

"In general, the law relating to flowing water appears to apply equally in the case of standing water in lakes and ponds."

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