Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Watercourse Definition:

A stream usually flowing in a particular direction, in a definite channel, having a bed or banks, though it need not flow continually.

Related Terms: River, Stream, Waterway, Lake

Also:

  • Water course; or
  • Water-course.

In Los Angeles Cemetery Association v City of Los Angeles, the court wrote:

"There must be a stream usually flowing in a particular direction, though it need not flow continually. It may sometimes be dry. It must flow in a definite channel, having a bed or banks, and usually discharge itself into some other stream or body of water. It must be something more than a mere surface drainage over the entire face of the tract of land, occasioned by unusual freshets or other extraordinary causes. It does not include the water flowing in the hollows or ravines in land, which is mere surface water from rain or melting snow (i.e., snow lying and melting on the land), and is discharged through them from a higher to a lower level, but which at other times are destitute of water. Such hollows or ravines are not, in legal contemplation. water courses."

In 1893, Justice Lotz of the Appellate Court of Indiana wrote, in Board of Commissioners of Shelby County v Castetter:

"Every river is a running stream of water, but not every running stream of water is a river. A running stream may be artificial, but a river is a body or water issuing ex jure naturae from the earth. The word watercourse is a broader and more comprehensive word than river. In its most general sense, it means a course or channel in which water flows. In its legal sense, it consists of bed, banks, and water, a living stream confined in a channel, but not necessarily flowing all the time, for there are many watercourses which are sometimes dry. It is a condition of the earth's surface brought about by the processes of nature. It is this fact - the natural condition - that gives rise to the rights of the public in natural watercourses."

In the 1914 edition of the Bouvier American Law Dictionary:

"Water-course • This term is applied to the flow or movement of the water in rivers, creeks, and other streams.

"The essential characteristics of a watercourse are a channel consisting of a well defined bed and banks, and a current of water.

"The rule is that in order to have a watercourse there must be a channel; it has even been held that where there was a channel there was a water-course, although it carried no water except in times of heavy rains and of melting snows, thus forming what is called a torrential stream....

"A water-course is a stream of water flowing in a definite channel, having a bed and sides or banks and discharging itself into some other stream or body of water. The flow need not be constant, but must be more than mere surface drainage occasioned by extraordinary causes; there must be substantial indications of the existence of a stream which is ordinarily a moving body of water.

"There must be a supply which is permanent in the sense that similar conditions will always produce a flow of water in the same channel, and that the conditions recur with some degree of regularity, so that they establish and maintain for considerable periods of time a running stream.

"Whenever surface water flows in one continuous well marked channel it becomes a water-course, if this flow becomes regular each season; or if the course has reasonable limits as to width."

French: un cours d'eau.

REFERENCES:

  • Board of Commissioners of Shelby County v Castetter, 33 N.E. 986
  • Hutchinson v. Watson Slough Ditch Co., 101 P. 1059 (Idaho, 1909)
  • Los Angeles Cemetery Association v City of Los Angeles, 37 P. 143; also at 103 Cal. 461 (1894)

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