Whatever property regime applies to water, the public often retains certain rights in the resource. Thus, for instance, in American law, though a river's water may be owned by riparian landowners or appropriators, the federal government retains a "navigation servitude" in the water with which private owners (and states) cannot interfere (Trelease, 1965).
The public trust doctrine continues to receive support from many commentators, but it has also been criticized. On the one hand, it has been argued that the doctrine places undue reliance on an inflexible, property rule as applied by the judiciary, while environmental protection should be sought from progressive legislation (Lazarus, 1986). On the other, the doctrine has been criticizes as historically without basis, undemocratic, and invasive of private property rights (Huffman, 1989, 2007).
Next: A human right to water. The full article is here.