Most water comes from surface water supplies, lakes, rivers and streams, but groundwater supplies are crucial in many regions globally. Even in times of normal precipitation, excessive use of ground and surface water for prolonged periods can cause streams and wetlands shrink or dry up, with profound ecological effects. Laws regulating use of these sources of water can control and extend their use. However, legal control is easiest for surface waters, which is the easiest for policing authorities to monitor. Problems of detection explain why unsustainable depletion and pollution of slow moving groundwater is so widespread. Legal protection of watersheds helps to prevent siltation in reservoirs and increases and protect groundwater recharge. Laws used for regulating surface water are categorised as "appropriation laws" or "riparian laws". The former dictates that governments can appropriate water for general use, such as water from large rivers diverted for dams or irrigation. Riparian laws apply to owners of land who have the right the withdraw water from rivers and lakes bounding their land, but on condition that the water is returned to its source in an unpolluted state. By and large, legal measures are best used in circumstance where only a small number of actors use the resource and where stricter controls are required than can be provided by market controls.
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