fords some consideration to riparian areas and resources, whether by regulation or in an internal manual or policy handbook. Few specific provisions for riparian areas have been established in congressional legislation by or in executive orders, but agencies have considerable latitude to decide how and to what extent their planning and management activities will account for these areas. One result is that individual districts or units within agencies may vary in their interpretation and implementation of riparian measures established administratively. Thus, while different and additional constraints apply to management of federal riparian lands compared to privately owned riparian lands, the constraints on federal lands are not uniform from system to system, nor uniformly interpreted and applied within systems, and for the most part have been established principally by administrative action, not by legislation, and thus are subject to administrative change.


Protection of riparian areas often is premised on their importance in protecting waterbodies. However, the reverse can also be true—protecting stream flows and lake levels can help preserve the structure and functioning of adjacent riparian areas. This section explores how laws relating to instream flows and uses of water can benefit riparian areas.

Current Water Law

Riparian Doctrine

The legal system regards water as a public resource. Allocation and use of water are governed by state law. In those states following the riparian doctrine (generally those located east of the ninety-eighth meridian), the owner of land adjacent to a waterbody (the riparian landowner) is regarded as holding a legal right to make use of the water. Riparian water rights are a product of English common law, generally adopted by the eastern states. The right to use water is simply an extension of the ownership of land adjacent to that water. It is an acknowledgment of access to waterbodies that riparian land ownership provides.

The nature of the legal interest in adjacent water is somewhat ill defined. The riparian landowner has the ability to enjoy the benefits of using water—a so-called usufructory right—but does not own water. The purposes for which a riparian owner may use water are open-ended, constrained only by the limitation that the use may not unreasonably interfere with the equivalent right of all other riparian owners to their enjoyment of the resource. In short, it is a correlative system in which the interests of all riparian landowners in use of the shared water resource are to be balanced. Generally this means that riparian uses must be

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