The Fourth Department, in this dispute over water rights, noted that the Monroe County Water Authority (MCWA) owned surface water on its land and could divert it before it entered a definite water course:
… [W]e agree with MCWA that the court erred in determining that plaintiffs ( a golf course) have riparian rights to the surface waters collecting on MCWA’s property. “The owners of land on a water-course, are not owners of the water which flows in it” … , and “the law has always recognized a wide distinction, between the right of an owner, to deal with surface water falling or collecting on [its] land, and [an owner’s] right in the water of a natural water-course” … . “In such [surface] water, before it leaves [the owner’s] land and becomes part of a definite water-course, the owner of the land is deemed to have an absolute property, and [the owner] may appropriate it to [its] exclusive use, or get rid of it in any way [it] can, provided only that [the owner] does not cast it by drains, or ditches, upon the land of [its] neighbor; and [the owner] may do this, although by so doing [it] prevents the water reaching a natural water-course, as it formerly did, thereby occasioning injury to . . . other proprietors on the stream” … . Webster Golf Club, Inc. v Monroe County Water Auth., 2023 NY Slip Op 04280, Fourth Dept 8-11-23
Practice Point: A property owner owns the surface water collected on the property and can divert the surface water before it reaches a definite water course like a stream or river.