Water has its own special characteristics, whether visible and flowing on the surface or invisible underground as groundwater. Owing to its mobility, water cannot be easily possessed; without it human survival and the living environment as we know it would not be possible. In European countries and their former colonies, including the Americas, water rights have their origins both in civil law from the European continent and in the common law of England. Both traditions viewed groundwater as the property of the owner of the land above it, who could use it as he pleased, irrespective of any impact to his neighbours. As long as abstractions remained small, questions of sustainability and impact to others and the environment did not arise. Technological progress in the last century caused an explosion in the quantities of groundwater abstracted. It was soon recognized that groundwater, even when renewable, is not inexhaustible and that its overexploitation can lead to unacceptable impacts. In the same period, intensive agriculture, urban expansion and industrial development led to the pollution of groundwaters in many countries. Impacts on both quantity and quality prompted legislative changes worldwide. Modern legislation has sought to control abstraction by introducing a system of permits or licences granted and regulated by the state, and to protect aquifers from pollution by introducing water quality standards and environmental regulations.