A water right is a legal entitlement authorizing water to be diverted from a specified source and put to beneficial, nonwasteful use. Water rights are property rights, but their holders do not own the water itself – they possess the right to use it. Some water rights require a permit or license from the State Water Resources Control Board, whose objective is to ensure that the state’s waters are put to the best possible use and that the public interest is served. In making decisions, the Board must keep three goals in mind:
• Developing water resources in an orderly manner.
• Preventing waste and unreasonable use of water.
• Protecting the environment. The State Board’s duties are not limited to permits and licenses. It may be called upon to adjudicate water for entire systems or to act as a “referee” or fact-finder in court cases involving water rights.