Dam Removal, Waterfront Property, and Riparian Rights
It has finally happened, you’ve worked, saved, and finally earned enough money to purchase your dream home on the river. You’ve done your calculations and made the numbers work so that you can maintain your monthly mortgage and property taxes with your current income. But what if that changes? What happens if the area around the water recedes or expands? Will that affect you? Will it affect how much you are paying and if so, will you be able to afford to continue living at the home you have saved so much for?
These are the questions being asked by land owners as the State of Illinois works to comply with the Illinois River Basin Restoration Program that Congress approved in 2000. The program plans for the removal of every Fox River dam in Kane County from the Carpentersville Dam to the Montgomery Dam. While it is wonderful to hear that Illinois cares deeply about our ecological environment, it is concerning to property owners as they are unsure whether these efforts to restore the environment will have affects on their homes and potentially their property rights.
With the goal of removing every dam between the Carpentersville Dam and the Montgomery Dam, the Fox River is set to undergo change. With all the dams being removed, the water flowing along the Fox River should begin to recede and the river itself may become thinner as the water flows more concurrently. For those with properties on the edge of the Fox River it is a concern that if the water recedes and they gain access to new land that they will then see an increase to their property taxes.
While this is a reasonable concern, it does not comport with the law and homeowners should feel a bit more security in their position. Riverfront homeowners have what are known as Riparian Rights. Generally, riparian rights are “the rights of an owner of land that borders on a body of water or watercourse to the use of the water.” Alderson v. Fatlan, 231 Ill. 2d 311, 318, 325 Ill.Dec. 548, 898 N.E.2d 595 (2008). These rights originate by operation of law, “solely because the land abuts the body of water.” Id. The riparian rights of property owners, abutting the same body of water, are equal, such that no “ Property owner may exercise its riparian rights in such a manner so as to prevent the exercise of the same rights by other similarly situated property owners.” Id. at 318-19, 325 Ill.Dec. 548, 898 N.E.2d 595.
Cases in Illinois have discussed the property lines of riparian rights holders and have found that if a riparian owner’s land extends to and bounds on a river, then the center of the river is the property line. Schulte v. Warren, 218 Ill. 108, 117, 75 N.E. 783 (1905); accord Fuller v. Shedd, 161 Ill. 462, 474-75, 44 N.E. 286 (1896); Braxon v. Bressler, 64 Ill. 488, 489 (1872). If a riparian owner owns land on both sides of a river, then he owns “the whole of the bed of the stream to the extent of the length of his lands upon it.” People ex rel. Deneen v. Economy Light & Power Co., 241 Ill. 290, 318, 89 N.E. 760 (1909); accord Albany R.R. Bridge Co. v. People ex rel. Matthews, 197 Ill. 199, 205-06, 64 N.E. 350 (1902). (per curiam)
It has been speculated that property values will increase due to the restoration of the river. With the property lines being drawn to the center of the river, it is unlikely that property owners will see increases to their property taxes due to any uncovered land if the water recedes.
If you have questions regarding your property or riparian rights the Law Office of Andrew Szocka, P.C. can be contacted online or by phone at (815) 455-8430.