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Postcard from the Past: Water Rights

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

by Dick Perue

A Piece of Property That Cannot be Transferred Must Follow the Land

An article in the Aug. 15, 1895 issue of The Saratoga Sun relates:

A great many ranchmen and farmers still hold erroneous opinions concerning their water rights in regards to their power to dispose of them. The property right in water for irrigating purposes is so different from any other property right it is difficult for some men to understand the true status of the question. 

Hence, we hear now and then of a man selling his land, in the deed of which there is made no mention of the ditch or water right covering it and afterwards trying to dispose of his water right, under the impression he still has a right to sell and separate it from the land upon which it has been used.

Water, when once appropriated for a certain piece of land, and used on the same, and for which the Board of Control has granted the party a certificate of appropriation, cannot be separated from the particular piece of land without the direct sanction and authority of the Board of Control. 

The appropriator is powerless to sell it because it belongs to the state. If he, himself, for any reason does not need it, then it must go back into the stream, and it belongs to the next appropriator who stands in need of it.

Behind this law are the decisions of the courts and the rulings and practices of the state Board of Control, both of which have decided when a man makes a deed to a piece of irrigated land, the water right goes with the land no matter whether the deed mentions it or not. 

We know a case in point in this valley.

A settler sold his ranch and moved away to another county. No mention of the ditch covering the land was made in the deed, and in consequence, the former owner of the land has come to the conclusion he still holds his interest in the ditch and has offered the same for sale. 

In case he succeeds in selling the water right to any one or if he or any one else attempts to divert the water to other land than to which it belongs, the water commissioner will be instructed to interfere and to see the water remains in use on the land for which it was originally appropriated.

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