Water as an urban resource and nuisance

Circular 601-D




Generally, when people speak of water as a resource, they are considering its good aspects and recognizing that it is essential for life and living. Sometimes or at some places or to some people, the same water may be annoying or unpleasant and thus a nuisance-for example, rain at a picnic, snow at any time except Christmas Eve, ground water in a basement, floodwater inundating personal property, and any water after it has been polluted by somebody else.

For purposes of this circular, water as a resource will be defined more broadly and as a nuisance more narrowly. Water is part of the natural resource base including all aspects of the land, the air, and the water that must be considered in planning if an environment suitable for the well-being of all life is to be maintained. A nuisance, private or public, is a cause of annoyance, inconvenience, or injury that is an invasion or disturbance of the rights of some particular person or of members of a community, and it is punishable under the laws or customs accepted by the community. An activity harmful to mankind but widely practiced by the general public may be condoned by human laws and thus not be defined legally as a nuisance; the punishment for this activity is deterioration of the natural environment until it becomes unsuitable for living.

The water resource, which is widely and irregularly distributed on earth, is available to man for such enjoyment and development and use as he sees fit, some use being essential to his existence. Natural variations in the quantity and quality of water are inevitable and, if they cause annoyance or injury to someone, are accepted as one of the hardships that this planet imposes upon its inhabitants; such variations are recognized as "acts of God." However, if any man or society is partly responsible for these variations, which may cause such annoyance or injury, and may become a nuisance (an invasion or disturbance of the rights of others) such a man or society may perhaps be subject to injunctions and damage suits. Legal disputes over water as a nuisance are generally deeply involved with problems of the respective rights of plaintiff and defendant. These respective rights vary among the States.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water as an urban resource and nuisance
Series title:
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s):
Minnesota Water Science Center, Pennsylvania Water Science Center, North Dakota Water Science Center, Dakota Water Science Center
v, 9 p.
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