Riparian Rights

The principles applicable to riparian and littoral lands are the same. 101 Ranch v. U.S., 905 F.2d 180 (8th Cir. 1990). See also Alexander Hamilton Life Insurance Co. v. Virgin Islands, 757 F.2d 534 (3d Cir. 1985).

As long as water continues to flow in a watercourse, private ownership does not attach because the possession that is necessary for ownership cannot occur. Meng v. Coffee, 67 Neb. 500, 93 N.W. 713 (1903); Crawford Co. v. Hathaway, 67 Neb. 325, 93 N.W. 781 (1903).

Unlike the appropriation laws adopted in the 1800’s, the riparian system currently in existence recognizes no priority among riparian proprietors utilizing the supply, nor does the use of the water create such a right. Metropolitan Utils. Dist. v. Merritt Beach Co., 179 Neb. 783, 140 N.W.2d 626 (1966).

‘Grants of land bounded upon rivers in this state carry with them the exclusive right and title of the grantees to the center or thread of the stream, unless the terms of the grant clearly denote an intention to stop at the bank or margin of the river. * * * ‘The thread or center of a channel, as the term is above employed, must be the line which would give the owners on either side access to the water, whatever its stage might be, and particularly at its lowest flow.’ Stubblefield v. Osborn, 149 Neb. 566, 31 N.W.2d 547 (1948); Higgins v. Adelson, 131 Neb. 820, 270 N.W. 502 (1936). See also Hardt v. Orr, 142 Neb. 460, 6 N.W.2d 589 (1942).

‘Where title to an island in a nonnavigable stream is conveyed to a grantee by government patent, and the land so conveyed is bounded by the waters of such stream, the grantee’s ownership carries with it the bed of the river to the center or thread of each surrounding channel.’ Stubblefield v. Osborn, 149 Neb. 566, 31 N.W.2d 547 (1948) (quoting Higgins v. Adelson, 131 Neb. 820, 270 N.W. 502 (1936)). See also Wiggenhorn v. Kountz, 26 Neb. 690, 37 N.W. 603 (1888).

The public may not utilize those riparian lands below the high water line for the purpose of hunting, fishing, boating and other recreation activities without the permission of the landowner except to portage or otherwise transport a non-powered vessel around a fence or obstruction in the river. Nebraska property adjoining the Missouri River is not affected by Iowa’s grant of public access to the banks to the high water mark. 1985 Att’y Gen. Op. No. 55.

The common law, where not inconsistent with any statutory law, determines such ownership rights as whether the bed of such stream belongs to the state or the riparian owner. The common law, as it applies to the navigable rivers of the State of Nebraska, grants exclusive right and title to the riparian owner to the bed of the river to the mid-point of the stream, subject to the public’s right to navigation or right of passage. Kinkead v. Turgeon, 74 Neb. 580, 109 N.W. 744 (1906).

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