Illinois Riparian Rights
Traditionally, riparian rights are associated with property owners who have access to a body of water such as a lake or stream. Currently, there are two types of water rights. The first is a right to access the water, and the second is a right to make reasonable use of it. Generally, states have laws that define riparian rights. Depending on the state, some rights are regulated, while other rights are not. In addition, a lot of states have laws that encourage riparian owners to provide public access to the water. There are also several cases that address the legalities of water access.
Increasing demand for water for recreational purposes is causing states to pass legislation encouraging riparian owners to provide public access. Currently, Illinois has 48 bodies of water that are navigable. These include six branches of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.
In Illinois, riparian rights are not only limited to a particular waterbody, but they also apply to all flowing streams. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources determines whether a waterway is navigable. It also controls how much water can be used by a landowner. It can also veto a dock or other structure that will interfere with the navigability of the water. State legislatures can also require a pro-rata reduction, depending on the seniority of use.
A recent Illinois Supreme Court case affirmed the lower courts holding that property owners on non-navigable water ways have the right to restrict access to the waterway. In this case, the plaintiffs wanted to kayak along the entire Mazon River. However, the defendants objected to the use of kayaks on portions of the river that flowed across their property. The defendants claimed that they had the right to prohibit the plaintiffs from kayaking on those portions of the river. The court disagreed with the plaintiffs, finding that the defendants had the right to bar access to portions of the river.
The riparian doctrine has been embodied in Illinois law for several decades. It has been used to protect property owners’ rights to water, including the right to build piers and docks. The courts have also enjoined landowners from making unreasonable use of their property.
If you are an owner of property on which a body of water lays, your legal rights to the use and enjoyment and control of that body of water depend on a number of facts. Consult with our office to evaluate your situation before restricting, limiting, or removing access to a waterway to avoid unnecessary legal challenges to your property rights.