Beneficial use is a term most commonly associated with water rights in the western United States and the prior appropriation doctrine. Many state statutes describe beneficial use as the basis, measure, and limit of a water right. Because these states define water sources as public resources, non-riparian landowners can acquire a right to the use of a water source when they put its water toward a beneficial use. However, the extent of their right is limited by the beneficial use. Texas, for example, defines beneficial use as the use of the amount of water which is economically necessary for a permitted purpose, when reasonable intelligence and reasonable diligence are used in applying the water to that purpose. Common beneficial uses include irrigation, hydropower generation, mined land reclamation, and other valuable domestic, municipal, or commercial purposes.
Beneficial use can also refer more broadly to a person’s right to enjoy property or its desirable qualities, such as light, air, or access, when the person does not possess legal title to the property.
[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]