Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Anals of Lesser Known Issues--Riparian Rights

I have been reading a lot about offshore wind farms--see for example this article about wind mills off of Portland, and this one about windmills being built on canals in England. Strikes me that some issues surrounding riparian rights may emerge from this new technology.

A riparian owner is one who owns property with water on it or on one of its boundaries. Riparian rights are the rights that owner has to the use or restrictions on others' use of that water. Riparian issues were very big in the late 19th century when factories were being built on watercourses, and the right to use the water to power factories needed to be allocated. See, e.g. this nifty 1891 book excerpt on riparian rights from Google books,M1

In many instances, public entities (states, counties, etc.) have riparian rights. These rights may become very valuable if the water becomes desirable to develop as a wind farm. In other circumstances, the ownership may be private, perhaps inhibiting the development of a wind farm where it will be in the public good. This could cause a public entity to "take" the riparian right from the landowner to build a wind farm. Historically, riparian rights are generally not severable from the land to which the riparian course is attached. If, however, the water becomes a power source, should the riparian rights be severable, like mineral rights or oil leases?

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