In Washington State the water is publicly owned and controlled by the state. This includes ground water and surface alike. Like many other states in the western United States, Washington is an appropriation rights state. This means that a property owner is required to obtain some kind certificate of water rights from a government agency before they are allowed to use water from their own land.
Other states are known as riparian rights states. This means that the rights to the use of the water come with the land. The land owner has rights to reasonable use of water. These rights are not in the deed or recorded with the county. This does not mean that the land owner has exclusive rights to the water or a right to waste the water. Nor do they have the right to divert the water or deprive other riparian owners of their rights to water.
What determines who has first water rights when there is a drought? How are water right issues resolved? Can you lose your water rights? Can you buy or sell water rights? How about water shed and drainage from one parcel to another?
The answers to these and other questions will vary from state to state. This is why it is important to do the research and know the answers.
More on water rights in Washington State Spokane Real Estate News Room.