A River Runs Through Private Property

For many Nevadans and tourists visiting the area, summer involves recreating in one of the many bodies of water located throughout northern Nevada.  Access to public waterways within our state can, often-times, be problematic when access points intersect at or are near private property.

In Nevada, the state holds the banks and beds of navigable waterways in trust for the public and subject to restraints on alienability.  Under this public trust doctrine,  the public may access certain waterways for recreational purposes under certain conditions.   Pursuant to NRS 455B.420, a water access area includes “without limitation, a beach, river entry or exit point and land located at or below the ordinary high-water mark of a navigable body of water within the State.”  Pursuant to the Nevada Administrative Code, the ordinary high-water mark is the line to which high-water ordinarily rises on a bank or shore.  A navigable body of water is one that has been declared by statue to be navigable or has been determined to have been navigable on the date in which Nevada was admitted into statehood.  Specific bodies of water that have been legislatively declared navigable include: (1) the Carson River; (2) the Colorado River; (3) Lake Tahoe; (4) the Truckee River; (5) the Virgin River; (6) Walker Lake; (7) Washoe Lake, and (8) Winnemucca Lake.

Typically, problems arise between private landowners and users of a navigable water for recreational purposes when the landowner owns land adjacent to or abutting on the navigable water.   For example, although a recreational user cannot trespass onto the private land, he/she may access a navigable waterway through a known public access point.  After lawfully entering a navigable waterway, the recreational user of the waterway may find himself/herself in a situation where the waterway is bordered on all sides by private land.  While a recreational user of a waterway cannot trespass onto private property, he/she may utilize the navigable waterway that travels through the private property, including the use of the banks up to the high-water mark.

The foregoing example is one of many scenarios where tensions between private landowners and users of a navigable waterway can occur.   If you have any questions regarding the use of a navigable waterway as either a landowner or a recreational user of the waterway, contact any attorney at Lemons, Grundy & Eisenberg.