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Who really owns access to the river in your backyard?

On Behalf of | May 10, 2022 | Real Estate Disputes |

If there is a river or other waterway located on your property, you may wonder if you have a right of access to it. Since it’s on your property, you would think that you would have access, but that access doesn’t necessarily come with a right to exclusive use.

When a river passes through your property, you generally have the right to access the waterway. However, you don’t have the right to limit other people’s access under most circumstances, with the caveat that they stay in the water and don’t come onto your property.

Do people need permission to use a river that goes through your property?

It depends. Riparian rights, rights of owners of waterfront property, state that owners have a right to the reasonable use of the water as it flows over or through the property. They may have a right to:

  • Fish in the river
  • Take steps to prevent erosion or flooding on the property
  • Acquire accretion, of the land created when water deposits soil
  • Boomage, which is the fee charged for securing a boom

Generally speaking, these rights tell you what you can do with water as it passes through the area as well as how to handle the bank of the river. Owners are, through federal legislation, encouraged to allow public access to water for recreational purposes.

Someone who is rafting down the river likely does not need to have permission to float down the river past your property. On the other hand, if rafters are stopping and using your dock or coming onto your property, then you may ask them to leave or pay a fee for using your property.

Waterway rights can be complex, so it’s valuable to know your local, state and federal laws

While this subject might seem straightforward, it can be confusing to know how far your property extends and when others need permission to use it. It’s valuable for you to get to know the local and federal laws that may apply to your case. If others are violating your rights as a property owner, good signage, a fee structure or other options may help you take back control.


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