Rights to Navigable River Bed
March 19, 2008
Posted by Randy GrayI had someone ask me to review a survey plat of a tract of his land that was performed by someone else . The property is adjacent to a major navigable river in the area (not the Ohio River). The survey, as is typical in the area, described the low water mark as the boundary, and the acreage to that line. The owner asked me about the ownership of the bed of the river (which would add about 35 acres assuming the center of the river is the thread of the stream). My initial thought was that the state of Kentucky owned the property under the stream bed from low water mark to low water mark, and I found several quotes in some of my survey books to back that up. His deed calls for the bank of the river.
Then he presented me with copies of several cases where courts had reversed lower court decisions, on several rivers, including the Ohio and Mississippi, and determined that the riparian owner actually did own the bed of the river to the thread of the stream, although that ownership is subordinate to the public’s right of use and navigation.
As far as I could tell, the only thing that any of the determined owners actually gained by owning the bed of the stream was that if anybody else tried to use it (to dredge, install mooring facilities, etc.) they were able to prevent it.
What he wants to know is, if he decides to sell, can he include the extra 35 acres in his total acreage? It appears from what I have read, he can. I can't see that it is worth much, though. Any construction in the area would have to be by permit from the Corps of Engineers whether it was owned by an individual or the state.
Anybody been involved in any cases where this came up? If so, what happened?