Go to archive
Vol. 2008-1 | January, 2008

Real Property, Watercourse Boundaries

Watercourse boundary lines have been the source of much historic gunfighting in the old West. Since that time such controversies have been settled more civilly in the courts. It has been long held that where watercourses may shift, by the effects of nature, real property boundary lines do not change, as a matter of law. The Court of Appeals of Ohio, in a more recent decision, cited this principle provided in an 1890 opinion by the United States Supreme Court:

{¶35} ”As a general rule, where a waterline is a boundary of given land, that line remains the boundary no matter how it shifts. Similarly, where the bank of the stream is called for and the bank is added to by slow and gradual accretion, the boundary is the new bank at low water. If, however, a watercourse which has been the boundary line changes its channel suddenly, it ceases to be the boundary, and the boundary remains where the watercourse was.” 2 Ohio Jurisprudence 3d (1998) 64-65, Adjoining Landowners, Section 58.

{¶36} Further, in the second paragraph of the syllabus of Jefferis v. E. Omaha Land Co. (1890), 134 U.S. 178, 10 S.Ct. 518, 33 L.Ed. 872, the United States Supreme Court held:

{¶37} ”Where a water line is the boundary of a given lot, that line, no matter how it shifts, remains the boundary; and a deed describing the lot by its number conveys the land up to such shifting water line; so that, in the view of accretion, the water line, if named as the boundary, continues to be the boundary, and a deed of the lot carries all the land up to the water line.” Kern v. Clear Creek Oil Co., 149 Ohio App.3d 560,562; 2002-Ohio-5438.

“We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone, and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.”

Hon. Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice U.S. Supreme Court

AUTHOR / EDITOR: J. NORMAN STARK is an Attorney-at-Law, a Registered Architect, (AIA, NCARB) Registered Landscape Architect, Interior Designer, Planner and Senior Appraiser (ASA), admitted to practice law before the Bar of Ohio, the US District Courts, Ohio and Illinois (Central Dist.), the US Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. He is a Mediator, Arbitrator and Litigator with experience in Business, Construction Law, and Public Works, and with additional experience in Real Estate, Construction Attorney (Legal Project and Crisis Management), and as an Expert Witness (Forensic Architect). His office is in Cleveland, Ohio.