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The Appropriation System: Water Rights in the Western United States; Water Pollution Problems Peculiar to the Uranium Industry

Theodore E. Worcester, Uranium Exploration and Development (1976)

Water resource requirements for a party embarking on a uranium exploration, development or mining program will vary according to the precise details of that program, but water may be needed for use in drilling operations, mining operations, particularly solution mining or heapleaching, milling, revegetation or other reclamation activities, and for related domestic-type uses in facilities provided for employees. Acquisition of this water requires an understanding of the legal framework surrounding water rights acquisition and usage in the western United States together with a detailed analysis of the feasibility of obtaining water from those potential sources located near the operation. This paper deals with that legal framework and with the steps which should be taken in analyzing potential sources of water. It also touches on some of the applicable water pollution control laws and regulations.

Our system of water rights laws in the West, frequently referred to as the “appropriation system” or, more properly the “prior appropriation system” had many origins, including irrigation practices in Spanish settlements in the southwest, practices established by the Mormon Church during the colonization of Utah, and rules and regulations formulated by miners during the California gold rush.1 No matter what the origin, the appropriation system was the result of increasing demand