By Kloe Burris
Farmers and ranchers should know their rights to use “waters of the state.”
In relation to surface water, Alabama follows the “riparian” doctrine. Riparian means “land that touches water.” This doctrine allows a landowner to use any quantity of water from the source if the use is reasonable. Diverted water may only be used on land touching the water source. If otherwise diverted, the landowner may obtain a right to divert the water by getting a court order in special circumstances.
When taking water for “natural” use, a landowner may use all the water in a stream without consideration of other landowners also using the water source. In contrast, an “artificial” use must be reasonable in relation to others who use the same water source. Any use that is not drinking, bathing or subsistence farming is considered artificial, including irrigation, watering herds or generating power.
For ground water, Alabama follows the American “reasonable use” rule. When water is used non-wastefully on property overlying an aquifer, there are no limits on the amount a landowner may use. A landowner may also pump water to a tract of land that is not overlying the aquifer, but the pumping may be stopped if the use harms a different overlying landowner.
Remember: This article only provides an overarching summary of Alabama water law regimes. Water use is also subject to other state and federal regulations, in addition to Constitutional protections.
The material presented above is meant for educational purposes only. The content does not constitute legal advice. If readers require specific advice or services, a legal or other professional should be consulted.