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Water ownership

It is important to distinguish between ownership of water, and the right to have access to water and use it. Regulation of the resource can only arise out of an authority, explicit or implicit, that the government has the right to manage the resource in the public good. Most governments expressly own water, and the protection of the resource is therefore a public function to which individual rights are subservient. The right to use water is based either on customary or statutory claims. In order to be regulated, these must be clearly identified. Customary rights may include the right to expropriate, use or trade water, on which can be built systems of community ownership or use and water 224 charges. While building upon existing systems is often the surest and most acceptable route to implementation, systems based only on customary rights may not be able to assure efficient and equitable allocation of a scarce resource. A system of water law needs not only mechanisms of ensuring access to water (water rights) but also a system of obligations regarding usage and control of the levying of water charges by individuals (restriction of rights).

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