What are water rights?

water rights

The dirt is not the only part of Mother Nature you need to consider when buying land. One key factor to keep in mind concerns your water rights as a land owner.

Put simply, a water right is your ability to use water on your land. You may think that when you purchase a property, whatever water is on it belongs to you, but when you purchase land with water, your rights to use and claim that water as your own may be dictated by state or national laws and guidelines.

What are the types of water rights?

There are two main types of water rights: surface and groundwater.

Surface water rights apply when you are legally allowed to divert water from a river, stream, lake, spring or other surface body of water. Groundwater rights are when you have the right to pump water from a well or otherwise access water under the surface of the earth.

Specifics relating to water rights can change from region to region, but in general, the most important concept to remember is beneficial use – or the purpose for which the water is being used. If you can show that you’re putting water to beneficial use, you are establishing your water right, according to the Washington Rivers Conservancy. However, you can lose this right if you stop using the water. For example, if you’re found to have not used your water for an extended period of time, it could be considered abandonment.

There are various ins and outs associated with water rights that make it necessary to work with a professional who can provide you with location-specific information. For instance, water rights can change based on what year they were established or what kind of water supply system they pertain to.

How do water right affect land ownership?

Your water rights as a land owner are only one small piece of the puzzle to consider. As highlighted by Bob Regester, mountain land specialist at Mossy Oak Properties Colorado Mountain Realty, water can impact a land purchase in numerous ways, including how much the land is worth.

“In Colorado, having live water on land is very valuable,” Regester said. “For the most part, no water rights transfer with a stream. The value is aesthetical and the more water, the higher the value.”

As an example, Regester said 160 acres of dry land with a value of $200,000 could sell for as much as double that price if it contained a flowing stream.

In short, when investing in land, it’s important to think about how various factors, including water, may impact how the land can be utilized and its overall value.