Responsible Water Transfers
Water rights are non-possessory "use rights" to take water from a watercourse, a moving, changing, common pool resource in which many can hold and exercise rights at the same time. Not only is the resource a common pool, but it is one in which the same molecules of water may be used and reused, over and over, by different right holders. Multiple right holders relying on and diverting the very same water that comes to them in the form of irrigation return flows, municipal effluent discharges, and reservoir releases from upstream users. Because of the legally protected reliance of downstream right holders on the availability and reuse of previously diverted water that re-enters the system after being used upstream, what a diverter may transfer without causing injury to other users is water removed from the system by his own use and is thus unavailable for reuse by others downstream. The result is that transferring water routinely involves a complex and time-consuming burden of factual inquiry and decision-making.