Legal Dictionary

riparian rights

Legal Definition of riparian rights


  1. Special rights of people who own land that runs into a river bank (a "riparian owner" is a person who owns land that runs into a river). While not an ownership right, riparian rights include the right of access to, and use of the water for domestic purposes (bathing, cleaning and navigating). The extent of these rights varies from country to country and may include the right to build a wharf outwards to a navigable depth or to take emergency measures to prevent flooding.

Related terms

Definition of riparian rights


riparian rights

  1. Plural form of riparian right

Further reading

Riparian water rights (or simply riparian rights) are system for allocating water among those who possess land about its source. It has its origins in English common law. Riparian water rights exist in many jurisdictions with a common law heritage, such as Canada, Australia, and states in the eastern U.S.

Common land ownership can be organized into a partition unit, a corporation consisting of the landowners on the shore that formally owns the water area and determines its use.

General principle

Under the riparian principle, all landowners whose property is adjoining to a body of water have the right to make reasonable use of it. If there is not enough water to satisfy all users, allotments are generally fixed in proportion to frontage on the water source. These rights cannot be sold or transferred other than with the adjoining land, and water cannot be transferred out of the watershed.

Riparian rights include such things as the right to access for swimming, boating and fishing; the right to wharf out to a point of navigability; the right to erect structures such as docks, piers, and boat lifts; the right to use the water for domestic purposes; the right to accretions caused by water level fluctuations. Riparian rights also depend upon "reasonable use" as it relates to other riparian owners to ensure that the rights of one riparian owner are weighed fairly and equitably with the rights of adjacent riparian owners.

Riparian rights and duties in England and Wales

The Environment Agency lists the riparian rights and duties in England and Wales:


  • ownership of the land up to the centre of the watercourse - unless it is known to be owned by someone else
  • right for water to flow onto your land in its natural quantity and quality
  • right to protect property from flooding, and land from erosion (but subject to approval by the Agency)
  • right to fish in the watercourse - however this right may be sold or leased, and a fisherman must have a valid Environment Agency rod licence.
  • right to acquire accretion
  • right to boomage


  • to pass on the flow of water without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the rights of others
  • to accept flood flows, even if caused by inadequate capacity downstream, but there is no duty to improve the drainage capacity of a watercourse
  • to maintain the bed and banks of the watercourse and to clear any debris, whether natural or man-made
  • to keep the bed and banks clear of anything that could cause an obstruction, including an obstruction downstream, if it is washed away.
  • to keep any culverts, trash screens, weirs and mill gates clear of debris
  • to be responsible for protection of your land from flooding
  • to not cause any obstructions - either temporary or permanent - that would prevent the free passage of fish


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     common stock
3.     lex situs
4.     lex causae
5.     lex fori
6.     status quo
7.     buggery
8.     conclusive presumption
9.     interlocutory
10.     writ of seizure and sale