Water Rights Bill

By Greg Taylor

In our common law understanding about land, a parcel of land is a permanent and fixed geographical position that – if there were no legal private claim recognized by the public claiming ownership –  is therefore publicly owned.  Once someone claims or purchases that parcel of land for their private purpose, and the public agrees and honors that claim as real and justified, it becomes this owner’s property.  A body of water such as a small lake or pond contained within the geographical boundaries of this parcel of land is presumed to belong to that private landowner. However, a river or stream that regularly flows across or beside any legal boundary and is therefore not wholly within that private property boundary cannot be legally owned by any single individual. 

Such rivers of the U.S. are the property of all and no one can singly claim that river or stream as their own. This means that no one is allowed to legally put restrictions on its use just because it crosses their land claim. The land along the banks of the river, or “riparian corridor” or sometimes even the land under the flow of water may be thought of as privately owned, but the water that flows through this land is a commonly owned resource and not a single claim of any landowner to dictate use or non-use. Rather common law understanding is that ownership of the river or stream is held in common by all. Therefore, it should not be controlled or restricted by any one or multiple  landowners. 

Some of you may or may not have heard of House Bill 4708 (previously designated as HB1568). This bill will correct previous erroneous water usage law concerning this topic. This is a reasonable exercise of public rights concerning this, your right to use this commonly owned resource. And like all rights, we have the singular and collective responsibility to use it for the good of all. Not to spoil it for others and the individual landowners that will allow us to cross over their property in recreation, not abuse. 

You as public citizens have the right to contact and comment on pending legislation such as this. And we highly encourage you to do so. This is what makes our democracy so excellent. Public participation. We the People. This is what we are here for, aren’t we? Self-collective governance and guidance?  

As HB 4708 moves ahead in the legislative process this year, IPC will be giving you the information on who and when to contact so that your vote and voice is recognized. Numbers do matter. Even to our legislators.