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February 20, 2007

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Discussion Topic: Who Owns Rivers and Streams?

From a PRNewswire-USNewswire story posted on Earthtimes.org:

The state agencies responsible for the stewardship of Pennsylvania's natural resources today praised a court decision guaranteeing the rights of citizens to have access to the Little Juniata River in Huntingdon County for fishing, boating and other recreation.

The [state] filed suit in 2003 against Donald Beaver and other defendants who had closed a 1.3-mile section of the Little Juniata River to the public and started a private fishing club.

During a weeklong trial, the agencies asked the court to confirm the commonwealth's long-standing position that the Little Juniata River is a navigable water of the state that is held in trust for the benefit of the public.

This ruling highlights the national issue of public access for anglers and the sticky question of who own access rights on waters flowing through private lands. What's your take?



This situation is somewhat simular to what is going in Texas right now with the Guadelupe river. Just to fill the people in who do know this river goes through New Braunfels which is within a short drive of University of Texas in Austin and Texas State University in San Marcos, so you can imagine that thousands of students come there to tube the river. The problem is that some people decide to get too rowdy, and it's almost ruined it for everyone else. Yes, I will admit that I've drank my fair share of beer on the river while floating with 20 of my friends. We all had a great time talking and laughing, but aside from going off the rope swing and occassionally jumping out of trees into deep spots we usually didn't do anything too wild. I can honestly say all of us made sure we carried a mesh sack to throw beer cans into; we kept the music at a resonable level; we always made sure to respect private property. The way this situation is simular is that the city this river goes through has decided to inact rules such as - you cannot have a cooler that holds more than 12 beverages, which is ridiculous because it's a 7 hour float in the blistering heat. Another rule is that there is no "mass-consumption" devices allowed: a 10 dollar word for something called a "beer bong." The last big rule to effect the river parties is that you cannot possess containers of 3 oz. or less, which will prevent people from bringing jello-shots with them. I again cannot deny that I've "done a beer bong" or taken jello shots on the river, but I, nor my group caused anyone any problems. We just have fun and cut loose a little after a difficult semester of school. In my opinion if this gets challenged on the state level then the rules will be thrown out because in Texas no one owns the water, so how can a city make rules for something it doesn't own?


Keep as much water as possible open to all...and hold irresponsible folks accountable for their actions.

Rex Howell

riparian rights is still a vital part of what helps the fisherman.

Dave Sutton

This is an interesting topic and one dear to my heart. As an avid water fowler who lives in Virginia, we have some absurd waterfowl blind laws. Our law states that you may not duck hunt within 500 yards from a licensed waterfowl blind whether it’s licensed or not. This means any person can erect a waterfowl bind in public water, which would preclude anyone else from hunting there. (Within 500 yards). This is in immediate conflict with another state law. Virginia Code 28.2-1200 states that all tidal water not conveyed by special purpose or grant is open to the public for fishing, fowling, hunting and taking shellfish. 28.2-1202 states the landowner’s rights extend to the low water mark. My personal opinion is that once a governing body rules a body of water to be navigable, it belongs to the public. The only question then becomes a matter of access. If you can legally access the stream or river without trespassing on someone else’s property then what you do on the river is governed by existing state laws, i.e. hunting, fishing, boating, etc. To deny the public access to navigable water is unconstitutional.


My family owned property on the Rockfish River in VA. We dreaded holiday weekends because people would trash the river and the property around it. It is unfortunate but I understand why landowners would prohibit access.


well folks i am an avid fisherman nobody owns the water if u have private shorefront propety sorry i dont have a boat ill stay as close to shore as posible besides i cant catch bass 20 feet into your backyard


I can understand property owner's right to prevent people from fishing on their property - even on the streambed. If I owned property, I'd post it too. But if someone is fishing from a boat....c'mon, that's just plain ridiculous. Property owners don't own the water.

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