Riparian rights establish ownership and use of streams and rivers. These rights include not only the stream and riverbeds, but also a usufructuary right to the water itself. Their importance extends to projects that range from underwater mining and resource rights to the construction of dams, docks and bridges. Riparian rights in Saskatchewan are vested in the Crown by virtue of the Northwest Irrigation Act of 1894, which was introduced in order to ensure central control and thereby prevent substantial legal conflicts over water rights, such as were taking place in the United States. Therefore, rights involving riverbeds as well as river water were appropriated by the federal government according to the 1894 legislation, and then transferred to the province by a 1938 amendment to the Constitution Act, 1930.
The province issues licenses through the Saskatchewan Water Corporation (1984), or SaskWater, for any large-scale commercial enterprises, while domestic use by households and farms does not require such licenses. These licenses are issued after an environmental assessment of the “instream” impact to ensure that the stream or river’s ecosystem will not be jeopardized. In anticipation of increasing demand for Saskatchewan water and the importance of water law, the province passed the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority Act in 2002.