What is a Water Right?

Water is food and food is water. Water keeps Nebraska agriculture afloat. We regularly receive questions as to water rights in Nebraska. We will bring this topic, that is surface water rights (ground water is generally regulated by Natural Resource Districts in Nebraska), into focus with posts that will directly address issues of water rights and law.

The first important topic is to understand what a water right is under Nebraska law. Do you know who owns the water in Nebraska? Is it an individual? Is it a group? Strictly speaking, water in Nebraska is not owned by any particular landowner. It is instead owned by citizens of Nebraska, through the state government. So, this means that when you are granted a water right, you do not gain ownership over the water in the same way that you would own equipment, or land. Instead of a tangible property right in the water, you are granted the right to use the water, subject to the applicable laws, rules, and regulations enacted by the state. One requirement as laid out in the regulations is that the water used must be for a beneficial use, which generally includes agricultural purposes. We will discuss and provide examples of beneficial use as it has been defined for agricultural purposes. The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the agency for regulating these surface water rights. DNR reviews all the applications for surface water use throughout the state.

This outline of what is a water right in Nebraska will simply get your feet wet. Come back often to learn about water law in Nebraska and important terms and issues regarding water and agriculture.

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