DO YOU OWN YOUR WELL WATER?
This article, written by the American Ground Water Trust was originally published in
THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2000, Number 4]
DO YOU OWN THE WATER IN YOUR WELL?
You own the pump, and you own the well casing, but do you own the water in your well? In the United States,
ost of the water resources are owned by the public and held in trust for the public by the state and local government s for the benefit of all present and future citizens. We entrust the The government does not "own" the water like it owns land for parks and forests, but is empowered to manage and maintain water resources ensuring to ensure long-term quality and sustainability for the public. . This relationship is rooted in Roman law during the reign of Emperor Justinian in 530 A.D. ("Institutes of Justinian"). Many European countries incorporated legal concepts from Roman law, including recognition of the public nature of water and the right of use by all citizens. English settlers brought the concepts to America, and colonial charters from the various kings of England established the precedent of the “Public Trust Doctrine” adopted later in American law and regulation. Today, federal, state and local governments manage water resources through various regulations that focus on public health or safety concerns.
The eastern United States is commonly perceived to be water-rich compared to conditions in the southwestern United States. Property owners in the east do not own the ground water beneath their feet because of controls and restrictions created by government statute and regulation. Generally, homeowners may use ground water from their wells for any "reasonable use" that does not impact neighboring property conditions. Reasonable use has generally worked well in the east because supply has exceeded demand. Where demand exceeds supply or negative impacts result from water use by individuals, the Public Trust Doctrine usually supercedes the reasonable use condition.
In the western United States, historical water use conditions determine water rights that are tied to particular parcels of land through land deeds. In a basic sense, water rights determine who can use the water resources (surface and/ or ground water) associated with a property, and how much may be used. Water rights are commonly bought and sold as a commodity. During a property transaction in the west, it is very important to determine what water rights are associated with a property to ensure that a proper water supply is available. A municipal water utility with water rights may restrict a customer's use during drought conditions because of the greater overall public good created through conservation. An individual receiving water from a utility may not be able to purchase and store (i.e., "own") all the water they desire.
From a practical perspective,
In perspective of water ownership, "owning" water is a relative and arguably fleeting termcondition. Water is transient by nature, forever recycling through the hydrological cyclesystem. Water beneath your well feet today may be under in your neighbors' well next week!
[© American Ground Water Trust. This article may be reprinted for non-commercial educational purposes provided it is used in its entirety and that reference is made to its source as an article in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2000, Number 4