Public Access to Water Flowing Through Private Property

Your Water Colorado Blog

By Larry Morandi

river “Colorado River @ Bond Colorado” by Loco Steve is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A Denver Post article written by Jason Blevins resurrects a water issue left unresolved in Colorado for nearly 40 years. “Who owns the bottom of the river?” asks a lawsuit brought by a fisherman, Roger Hill, against a landowner, Mark Warsewa, who has blocked Hill’s access to fish on a portion of the Arkansas River near Texas Creek in Fremont County. Warsewa owns the land adjacent to the river and Hill likes to wade there after entering from public property. Warsewa claims his land ownership includes the stream bed; Hill contends the river bottom is public property. A federal district court has been asked to decide.

The basis for the suit is a body of federal law called “navigability for title,” which essentially says that if a river was used for commercial purposes at…

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