Property Rights in France - Water
2. Spring Water on a French Property
An owner of a property is also the owner of a spring (source
) on the property and any spring water from it.
Accordingly, as a rule, the property owner can use the spring water for any use they desire, be it domestic, agricultural or industrial.
In addition, if you think it is any good, you can bottle it and sell it!
Owners are permitted to allow the water to overflow onto adjoining land or to cap off the spring if they wish.
So, unlike freely flowing rainwater, an owner of a spring is not obliged let it flow freely.
There are three exceptions
to this rule:
i. River Source
- Where the spring water is the origin of a later river, whether public or private, the owner is obliged to let it flow freely.
ii. Rights of Prescription
– A neighbour can acquire prescriptive rights over the use of the spring water if they have used it over the past 30 years (the ‘30 year rule’) and they have also carried out works to make possible this use. In these circumstances, the owner can use some, but not all, of the water for their own use.
iii. Local Residents
– People who live in the commune
are entitled to water from the spring if it is 'absolutely and unequivocally' necessary for their needs.
The rule applies to the generality of people in the commune
and not to the benefit of a single family or person.
So, in normal circumstances, the involvement of the local council would be required to give rise to adoption of this right.
It does not apply to agricultural uses, where no right exists for farmers to use the spring water.
Neither does it apply in relation to a well situated on a property (it must be freely running spring water).
The right does not give a specific right of way for village residents across privately owned land.
Accordingly, the owner can fence off and lock up the land if they so wish, but must leave a key with the mairie
for people to obtain access to the spring water.
The owner is entitled to claim a small amount of compensation from the commune
, not for the water itself, but for the inconvenience and disturbance of people using the right of access!
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