The purpose of this paper is to survey state codes primarily in the Western States for the purpose of determining the extent to which water resources have been explicitly identified as a part of the state's public trust. Our primary interest was in states wherein water law is based on the prior appropriation doctrine. A strict limitation was found to be impractical, given that some states have water rights based on prior appropriation and the riparian doctrine.
Each code is arbitrarily graded A, B, or C, to indicate the strength of public trust statements found in the state codes. We recognize that the State's Supreme Court, not the legislature, decides what resources are included in a public trust, as well as any limits on the legislature's issuance of usufructuary rights to use the resource. Therefore, this was taken into account when grading the state's code.
The method used to access data reported here was using a keyword search in Lexis-Nexis. The reader should keep in mind that the authors are not lawyers nor were the state codes reviewed in their entirety. The key words used in the search were: "public trust", "public interest", and "water". Working Paper #2002-001