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Student Project: Riparian Rights: California

This is a research guide which further explains riparian rights and provides examples for each kind of water right in three different states.


California follows Regulated Riparianism. Article X, Section 2 of the California Constitution requires all use of water to be “reasonable and beneficial.” Within this, municipal and industrial uses, irrigation, hydroelectric generation, and livestock watering are typically considered to be "beneficial uses."  Recently, beneficial uses have been broadened to also include recreational use, fish and wildlife protection, and aesthetic enhancements. 


Legislative History

* As mentioned in the Introduction Tab, Riparian Rights is traditionally an older body of law. Therefore, obtaining legislative histories for statutes can be difficult.

California State Water Project

How to receive a California Water Right (Regulated Riparianism)

  • "Filing an Application. The process is initiated when a permit application is filed by the person or agency desiring to divert water. This application specifically describes the proposed project’s source, place of use, purpose, point(s) of diversion and quantity to be diverted.
  • Acceptance of Application. The Board notifies the applicant within 30 days whether the application is incomplete or accepted. Acceptance establishes priority as the date of filing.
  • Environmental Review. Consideration of environmental effects is required by the California Environmental Quality Act before a permit can be issued. The Board examines the proposed project’s potential environmental impacts and determines whether conservation measures will be needed.
  • Public Notice. The State Board then publishes a notice of the applicant’s intent and invites comment. Copies of any protests are given to the applicant who is required to respond.
  • Protest Resolution. The Board takes actions to resolve any protests that have been filed. If both parties can agree to mutually acceptable conditions, the protest is resolved at this point in the process. In the event it is not resolved for small projects, the issue may be solved through an engineering field investigation report from the Board’s Division of Water Rights. For appeals from the report and for large projects, a formal hearing is held before one or more members of the State Board. The Board’s decision is based upon the record produced by the hearing.
  • Permit Issuance. Two initial Board findings are required before a permit can be issued: (1) that unappropriated water is available to supply the applicant, and (2) that the applicant’s appropriation is in the public interest, a concept that is an overriding concern in all Board decisions. The Board then either approves if the permits meets the criteria, imposes conditions, or denies."

California Water Boards