Crescent Harbor Water Co. v. Lyseng

In Crescent Harbor Water Co. v. Lyseng, 51 Wn. App. 337, 340, 753 P.2d 555 (1988), the question was whether a corporation organized to own and maintain an existing water supply system had acquired a prescriptive easement over Lyseng's property. Lyseng argued that the corporation had failed to allege compliance with provisions of the water code, had failed to join as a necessary party under the code, and had failed to exhaust administrative remedies under water rights statutes. The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments on the ground that a determination of a water right is a different legal matter from the determination whether a prescriptive easement was acquired. Crescent Harbor Water Co., 51 Wn. App. at 340. As the court correctly said, and as is true here, the Department has no authority to adjudicate private property rights. Id. In Crescent Harbor a landowner sought a prescriptive easement for access to a well and water system on another's property. The trial court held the landowner was entitled to either a prescriptive or implied easement. On appeal appellant argued the landowner had no right to an easement because he had not alleged compliance with chapter 90.03 RCW and thus had no valid water right in the well. Rejecting this argument the Court of Appeals reasoned: Lyseng's water rights arguments overlook the differences between a determination of easement and a determination of a claim for water rights. The former, as applied to this case, concerns a well, pipes, pumping apparatus and access thereto. The latter concerns the water that flows within the well and pipes. The two subjects are physically distinct. The two subjects are also legally distinct. An easement is a privilege to use the land of another. It is a private legal interest in another's property. Water rights claims are limited to a determination by the Department of Ecology as to whether a water use permit should be granted and to whom. Water rights claims do not and cannot involve property interest questions, as the Department of Ecology has no authority to adjudicate private rights in land. Cresent Harbor, 51 Wn. App. at 340.