Q&As

If an owner owns land either side of an unregistered watercourse, can they rely on the presumption that they own up to the middle line of the watercourse and so there is nothing preventing the riparian owner from draining into the watercourse as the land is theirs (subject to having any necessary discharge consents)? What happens if a landowner only owns land on one side of the watercourse? Can they still drain into the watercourse (subject to having any necessary discharge consents) or do they need an easement from the other adjoining owner, who is presumed to own the other half of the watercourse?

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Published on LexisPSL on 21/09/2018

The following Environment Q&A provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • If an owner owns land either side of an unregistered watercourse, can they rely on the presumption that they own up to the middle line of the watercourse and so there is nothing preventing the riparian owner from draining into the watercourse as the land is theirs (subject to having any necessary discharge consents)? What happens if a landowner only owns land on one side of the watercourse? Can they still drain into the watercourse (subject to having any necessary discharge consents) or do they need an easement from the other adjoining owner, who is presumed to own the other half of the watercourse?

Under the common law, the owner of land forming the bank of a natural watercourse has the benefit of the presumption that a landowner owns the land up to the centre of the watercourse, unless owned by someone else. Riparian owners have certain rights and obligations, including the right to water flow and flood protection. However, riparian owners also have common law duties to other riparian owners, the community and the environment. Such responsibilities include letting water flow through their land without any obstruction, pollution or diversion which would affect the rights of others. See Practice Notes: Riparian ownership—rights and responsibilities and Ad medium filum.

The rights and duties of riparian owners have been summarised as follows by the courts:

‘The possessor of land through which a natural stream runs, has a right to the advantage of that stream flowing in its natural course, and to use it when he pleases for any purpose of his own not inconsistent with the similar rights in the proprietors of the land above

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