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Many areas of the American West receive less rainfall than do other parts of the United States, and access to vital water resources is much more problematic and controversial than it is in the eastern United States. This difficulty of access has significantly impacted western economic development and prompted numerous legal and political controversies.

Water law in England and the eastern United States was based on the principle that water belonged to landowners whose lands included a river or stream. This is called riparian doctrine and is derived from the Latin word ripa, meaning riverbanks. As California miners settled in goldfields, they sought to divert water to individual miners with better claims than others, and the concept of “first in time, first in right” became common ...

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