Generally speaking, water is what we refer to as a public good, or at least the UN does. That means that, as humans, we all share a right to it to a certain extent.
Now, more specifically, the ownership of water generally falls to the ownership of the land it’s on (this gets a lot more technical, but I believe that’s the most simplistic way to explain it). I.e. a man who owns several acres of land, which happens to contain a spring, would have the rights to that spring.
California water rights are very complicated. The current legislation of water law is called the California Doctrine and it combines two ways of managing water rights based on if the users are in a water-scarce area or not. Users in water-scarce areas follow the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, which gives water rights based on who filed for usage first. Other areas follow the Riparian Doctrine, which followed the claim system first adopted for water usage by the Gold Rush miners. California is also a part of The Colorado River Compact of 1922 which allows several states to divert portions of the Colorado River.
Source: Principles of Water Resources by Thomas Cech
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