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When can property owners limit access to flowing water?

On Behalf of | Nov 20, 2023 | Water Access |

Streams and other waterways are incredibly valuable natural resources. Those who own property in Texas may have selected a specific parcel of land because of its proximity to water. People are often very defensive of their land rights, including any surface water access on private property. People may even threaten others with prosecution for trespassing over attempts to access surface waters or to follow along a stream bed.

Neighbors sometimes find themselves butting heads over access to running water in Texas. Thankfully, state statutes have very clear rules regarding when someone can deny others access to flowing water on private property. Both landowners who feel protective of their water and those hoping to access natural resources can benefit from understanding the Texas rules about water access rights.

When can someone prevent access to a stream on their property?

Public water access rights apply to water on public lands and all navigable waterways in Texas. Streams can be navigable waterways. The two standards for whether a stream is navigable or not are straightforward. Some waterways are navigable in fact. If the stream is wide and deep enough to float logs or all small boats to pass, the stream may be navigable in fact.

Even waterways that are too shallow to float logs or allow boats to pass could be navigable by statute. The rule in Texas requires that a stream have an average width of 30 feet. People should measure from the firmly fixed land banks. People need to consider the stream bed and not just the currently flowing water when measuring, especially if doing so during a dry season or year with low levels of precipitation.

Landowners with relatively small streams that do not meet either standard can deny others access to the stream and its banks on their property. They do not need to allow people to pass through the property by following the stream. However, if the stream is large enough to constitute a navigable waterway, then public access rights apply. People can potentially use the stream for sport, like fishing, and even for recreation if they legally access it and follow it onto private property.

Understanding how Texas handles issues related to water access may benefit those in need of water for cattle, recreation or even horticultural purposes. Seeking legal guidance is a good way to gain clarity in this regard concerning one’s unique circumstances.


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