riparian rights

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Riparian rights are the rights of a riparian landowner to certain uses of the river or stream adjoining his property. In a 2018 Wisconsin Supreme Court case, Movrich v. Lobermeier, the Court, citing influential treatises and case precedent, summarized common law riparian rights as “special rights to make use of water in a waterway adjoining an owner’s property.” It also listed examples of previously recognized common law riparian rights as: “[t]he right to reasonable use of the waters for domestic, agricultural and recreational purposes; the right to use the shoreline and have access to the waters; the right to any lands formed by accretion or reliction; the right to have water flow to the land without artificial obstruction; the limited right to intrude onto the lakebed to construct devices for protection from erosion; and the right, now conditioned by statute, to construct a pier or similar structure in aid of navigation.” The Court clarified, however, that riparian rights are private property rights, and as such as subject to the public trust doctrine. It also clarified that the extend of a riparian landowner’s rights to land beneath the adjoining waterway may be limited by deed. Thus, as summarized by the Court, while riparian landownership generally confers rights to the adjoining waterway, this right is limited by public policy doctrines (public trust doctrine) and other potential contractual limitations (deeds).

[Last updated in December of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]