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Water Rights


Water rights are the legal permissions or authorizations to use specific portions of water resources for various purposes, such as irrigation, hydropower, and municipal water supply. They are attached to the land and not the landowner, typically dictated by the “prior appropriation doctrine” or “riparian rights” depending on the laws of a country or state. These rights can be bought, sold, or leased, making them an important asset in certain industries like agriculture and real estate.


The phonetic pronunciation of the words “Water Rights” is: /ˈwɔːtər raɪts/

Key Takeaways

  1. Legality and Ownership: Water rights are the legal permissions or authorizations that allow for the usage or control over water resources. Ownership of these rights can be critical, especially in areas where water is scarce and highly contested between various parties, such as agricultural, residential, and commercial users.
  2. Impact on Ecosystems: Water rights and the way they are managed have a significant impact on ecosystems. Overuse or mismanagement of water resources can lead to ecological degradation, affecting wildlife habitats and biodiversity. Therefore, it’s imperative to balance human needs with ecological sustainability during water rights allocation.
  3. Global Inequalities: Global water rights inequalities refer to the uneven distribution and access to clean water across the world. Many people in developing countries do not have access to clean water, despite it being a fundamental human right as recognized by the United Nations. Resolving these inequalities requires global cooperation, improved infrastructure, and fair allocation and enforcement of water rights.


Water rights refer to the legal rights to use water from a particular source such as a river, stream, pond or other bodies of water. They are critically important in the world of business and finance, especially concerning industries such as agriculture, hydroelectric power generation, real estate, and tourism that rely heavily on extensive access to water. Companies dependent on water as a key resource must ensure they possess the necessary water rights to avoid legal disputes and ensure uninterrupted operations. Thus, water rights can significantly influence the valuation, profitability and sustainability of a business. They also serve as crucial legal tools ensuring fair use, conservation, and sustainable management of water resources.


Water rights is a crucial aspect of business and finance, serving as a permission that allows the lawful ownership, regulation, or control of water in a particular area for specific purposes. These can include irrigation, industrial applications, and in certain circumstances, even home consumption. The purpose of water rights is primarily to manage the distribution of water resource, given that it’s an essential, yet finite, commodity. This allows individual businesses, corporations, governments and private citizens to utilize these water sources without overstepping on each other’s rights or compromising the sustainability of the resource.In terms of usage, water rights can often play an important role in sectors such as agriculture, real estate development, and power production. For instance, in agriculture, a farmer may purchase water rights to ensure they can irrigate their crops throughout the growing season. In real estate, a developer could secure water rights to ensure a future housing community has a public water supply. Meanwhile, in the energy sector, a hydroelectric power company might acquire water rights to ensure the flow of water to their turbines. In some circumstances, water rights can even be traded on a market, much like other assets, particularly in areas where water is scarce and thus holds a higher economic value.


1. Nevada Water Rights: Nevada, in the United States, is one of the driest states in the country. Since water is a limited resource here, the state has established a system of water rights. Individuals and companies can apply to have rights to use the limited water. The Southern Nevada Water Authority, for example, has secured significant water rights to supply water to the Las Vegas metropolitan area.2. The Coca-Cola Company: Coca-Cola deals with water rights for their beverage business. They need large amounts of water to produce their products, but also have to deal with the rights and fair usage of water, especially in regions where water access is a critical issue. In India, Coca-Cola faced backlash for allegedly over-extracting groundwater and damaging local farming. It highlighted the importance of fair and legal water usage.3. Nestle Water Bottling: Nestle has faced several controversies and lawsuits related to their water rights. In various jurisdictions across the world, including the US, Canada, and Europe, Nestle purchased water rights to spring water that it uses to bottle its ‘Pure Life’ brand. However, this was met with resistance by locals and environmentalists who argued that large corporations shouldn’t profit from a public resource while communities suffer from lack of clean water. This case shows how water rights can lead to various socio-economic disputes and complexities.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What are Water Rights?

Water Rights refer to the legal rights to use and control water from a water source (e.g., a river, stream or groundwater well). These rights can be public rights, private property rights or non-ownership rights.

How does one obtain Water Rights?

Water rights can be obtained through the legal processes of your local region. This typically involves applying through a local government or water management authority and can involve demonstrating beneficial use of the water.

What is beneficial use in terms of Water Rights?

Beneficial use refers to the reasonable and efficient use of water that does not waste the resource. It often is required to maintain a water right once it is granted.

Can Water Rights be bought, sold or leased?

Yes, in many jurisdictions, Water Rights can be bought, sold or leased, much like other property. The stipulations and regulations governing such transactions vary greatly by location.

What is the difference between Riparian Water Rights and Prior Appropriation Water Rights?

Riparian Water Rights are common in areas where water supply exceeds demand and grants water use rights to those whose property abuts a body of water. Prior Appropriation Water Rights are common in drier areas and grants water use rights to the first party to make beneficial use of a water source, regardless of whether they own land adjacent to the source.

What are the business implications of Water Rights?

Water Rights can greatly impact businesses, especially those that require significant water use, such as farming, manufacturing, and energy production. Ownership or leasing of water rights can represent a substantial cost or investment for these businesses.

Can Water Rights be lost or forfeited?

Yes, water rights can be lost or forfeited if they are not put to beneficial use over a period of time, if regulations change, or if the rights are not properly maintained according to local laws.

What are the environmental considerations of Water Rights?

The allocation and use of water rights have significant environmental impacts, including changes to local ecosystems, water scarcity, and concerns over sustainability. As such, responsible water use is increasingly recognized as an important aspect of environmental stewardship.

Related Finance Terms

  • Appropriative Rights
  • Riparian Rights
  • Water Law
  • Surface Water Rights
  • Ground Water Rights

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