The final in a series on water boundaries
Recently I was fortunate enough to have some free time in New Mexico, part of which I spent bird watching at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on the Rio Grande. I grew up very near this river, so any return brings memories. This visit also reminded me of the character of rivers coursing through this arid landscape. The vegetated banks were separated by several hundred feet of barren silty river bed, through which meandered any number of small, shallow, interconnecting channels. The entire expanse is so strongly influenced by the desert sun that people have, in many places, diverted portions of the flow through ditches to concentrate some of the water into channels, minimizing loss through evaporation. In the Pacific Northwest, where I presently live, the rivers either completely inundate the area between the banks or run violently through generally well-defined, braided channels in rocky river beds. It is usually much easier to tell where the "actual" river is situated at any one time.
For this, my final article in this series on water boundaries, I will describe one interesting case from New Mexico that addresses the common problem of interpreting deeds that call out a river as one of the boundaries of a parcel. Cases interpreting such deeds are legion. In any state where you practice, you will need to know whether the Supreme Court considers a call in a deed to a "river" or a "bank" as meaning the center of the area between the banks, the thread of some channel, or perhaps the high water line of the river. Many courts have adopted policy decisions that they will always construe deeds calling lines to a river to include all the grantor's land within the river bed, unless a separate clause specifically reserves some described portion. Frequently, however, deeds that call out a riparian boundary give rise to some of the most difficult problems of determining the "intent" of some long past grantor in a chain of title.