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California Water Rights

Water in its natural state on the surface of the land or underground are considered real property. In the state of California, all water within the state is the property of the state. California's water regulations may be found here.

California recognizes surface water and groundwater.

Surface water is the water found on the land in watercourses (rivers, streams, natural springs) or in bodies of water (such as ponds or lakes). It may also include drainage water, storm water and flood water.

Ground water is the water beneath the surface of the land. There are three (3) recognized classifications of groundwater:

1. subterranean streams,

2. underflow of surface water, and

3. percolating groundwater.

California recognizes water rights based on: riparian rights, appropriation, as well as percolating groundwater rights.

The owner of property bordering a surface water source has riparian rights. Such riparian rights are limited to the beneficial or reasonable use of the surface water on the land. This water cannot be owned and cannot be channeled for the benefit of other landowners at the expense of property owners. Riparian rights are part of the land and may not be lost from non-use.

Appropriative water rights are the right to take riparian surface water for beneficial use on non-adjacent property. In California, use of water for non-domestic purposes is the highest use of water. Any legal entity may hold appropriative water rights. Such rights are considered real property and may be transferred from one owner to another.

Percolating groundwater is treated differently from surface water in that landowners using aquifers may use the water on an equal basis.

Do you have questions regarding your water rights? If so, please contact Aziz Legal by phone at (408) 203-4627 or email us at

This article is merely informational and is not intended to be used as legal advice. Use of any information from this article is for general information only and does not represent personal legal or tax advice, either express or implied. Readers are encouraged to consult Aziz Legal, or another attorney, for any specific legal matters.

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