This section is from the book "The Law Of Real Property and Other Interests In Land", by Herbert Thorn Dike Tiffany. Also available from Amazon: A Treatise on the Modern Law of Real Property and Other Interests in Land .
It is generally recognized that no right can be acquired by prescription to maintain a public nuisance.9 So it has been decided that there can be no prescriptive right to maintain an obstruction in the highway,10 or to pollute a stream to the detriment of the public.11 In a number of cases, however, it has been decided that one may acquire by prescription a right to use another's land although such use is incidental to the maintenance of a public nuisance.12 For instance, a prescriptive right to overflow land has been recognized, although the overflow was effected by the maintenance of a dam in a highway, a public nuisance,13 and even though the collection of such a body of stagnant water constituted a public nuisance by reason of exhalations therefrom.14 But in so far as the owner of the land suffers a special damage in such case from the condition which gives to the structure the character of a public nuisance, he does not, by lapse of time, lose his right to immunity from the nuisance. So while the owner of the flooded land may, by lapse of time, lose the right to object to the flooding of the land, he does not lose the right, as one of the public, to object to the unhealthy exhalations caused thereby.15 If what would otherwise be a public nuisance is legalized by the public authorities it loses its character of a public nuisance, and consequently prescription might, it would seem, run as against an individual as regards its maintenance, to the same extent as in the case of any private nuisance.16 In accordance with the maxim nullum tempus occur currit regi, a right of user cannot be acquired by prescription in land belonging to the United States,17 in the absence at least of an act of Congress establishing a limitation period as against the government. That a right of user may be acquired by prescription against the state, if the statute of limitation is ex13. Borden v. Vincent, 24 Pick. (Mass.) 301; Lawrence v. Inhabitants of Fairhaven, 5 Gray (Mass.) 110; Inhabitants of New Salem v. Eagle Mill Co., 138 Mass. 8; Perley v. Hilton, 55 N. H. 444; Charnley v. Shawano Water Power & River Improvement Co. 109 Wis. 563, 53 L. R. A. 895, 85 N. W. 507.
9. Kissel v. Lewis, 156 Ind. 233, 59 N. E. 478; Dygert v. Schenck, 23 Wend. (N. Y.) 446, 35 Am. Dec. 576; North Point Consol. Irrigation Co. v. Utah & S. L. Canal Co., 16 Utah, 246, 40 L. R. A. 851, 67 Am. St. Rep. 607, 52 Pac. 168. See cases cited in note to Leahane v. Cochrane. 53 L. R. A. 891.
10. Pierson v. Elgar, 4 Cranch (U. S.) 454; Harn v. Common Council of Dadeville, 100 Ala. 199, 14 So. 9; Blackman v. Mauldin, 164 Ala. 337, 27 L. R. A. (N. S.) 670, 51 So. 23 (navigable stream); Fresno v. Fresno Canal & Irrigation Co., 98 Cal. 179, 32 Pac. 943; Wolfe v. Town of Sullivan, 133 Ind. 331, 32 N. E. 1017; Lewiston v. Booth, 3 Idaho, 692, 34 Pac. 809; Hynes v. Brewer, 194 Mass. 435, 9 L. R. A. (N. S.) 598, 80 N. E. 503; Veazie v. Dwinel, 50 Me. 479 (floatable stream); Morton v. Moore, 15 Gray (Mass.) 573; New Salem v. Eagle Mill Co., 138 Mass. 8; Burbank v. Fay, 65 N. Y. 57; Deadwood v. Hursh, 30 S. D. 450, 138 N. W. 1122.
Contra, semble, Moon v. Mills, 119 Mich. 298, 75 Am. St. Rep. 390, 77 N. W. 926; Chase v. Mid-dleton, 123 Mich. 647, 82 N. W. 612.
11. Bowen v. Wendt, 103 Cal. 236, 37 Pac. 149; Platt Bros. v. Waterbury, 72 Conn. 531, 48 L. R. A. 691, 77 Am. St. Rep. 335, 45 Atl. 154; Woodyear v. Schaefer, 57 Md. 1, 40 Am. Rep. 419; Martin v. Gleason, 139 Mass. 183. 29 N. E. 664; Attorney General v. Grand Rapids, 175 Mich. 503, 50 L. R. A. (N. S.) 473, Ann. Cas. 1915A 968, 141 N. W. 890; Shelby v. Cleveland Mill & Power Co., 155 N. C. 196, 71 S. E. 218; Owens v. Lancaster, 182 Pa. 257, 37 Atl. 858; North Point Consol. Irrigation Co. v. Utah & S. L. Canal, 16 Utah, 246, 40 L. B. A 851, 67 Am. St. Rep. 607. 52 Pac. 168.
12. See Hudson v. Dailey, 156 Cal. 617, 105 Pac. 748; Felton v. Wedthnff, 185 Mich. 72, 151 N. W. 727; Charnley v. Shawano Water Power & Rivor Improvement. Co., 109 Wis. 563, 53 L. R. V 895, 85 N. W. 507.
14. Mills v. Hall, 9 Wend. (N. Y.) 315, 24 Am. Dec. 160; Rhodes v.. Whitehead, 27 Tex. 304, 84 Am. Dec. 631; Green Bay & Mississippi Co. v. Teluah Paper Co., 140
Wis. 417, 122 N. W. 1062. See Comm. v. Upton, 6 Gray (Mass.) 473.
15. See cases last cited.
16. See editorial note 9 Columbia Law Rev. 183; Lewis v. New York & H. R. Co., 162 N. Y. 202 at 223, 56 N. E. 540.
17. Union Mill & Milling Co. v. Ferris, Fed Cas. No. 14371, 2 Sawy. 176; Smith v. Hawkins, 110 Cal. 122, 42 Pac. 453; Lapique v. Morrison, 29 Gal. App. 136, 154 Pac. 881.
Pressly made operative as against the state, has been occasionally recognized.18
Since the doctrine of prescription is based in theory upon the presumption of a grant, it can apply only when an actual grant would have been valid.19 Consequently, it has been held, a right to lateral support from the bed of a street cannot be acquired by prescription, since the municipality has no power to grant such a right,20 and a right to appropriate water from a canal cannot be based on prescription when it could not have been the subject of a grant.21