You’ve probably heard the term and know that it relates to water, but what precisely are “riparian rights,” who has these rights, and what is the nature of these rights? Riparian rights are those rights which are incident to lands that border upon “navigable waters.” Riparian rights include such things as the right to ingress and egress the waters, and to boat, bathe and fish in the waters. Riparian rights are not proprietary in nature; they inure to the benefit of the upland owner, but they are not owned.
Navigable waters consist of freshwater lakes, rivers and streams, surveyed and owned by the State of Florida. They typically do not include non-meandered lakes, ponds, swamps or overflowed lands – the land under which has been conveyed to a private person without a reservation of any public rights. The State also owns the submerged lands under its navigable waters, as well as any islands, sandbars, and shallow banks within them. Although the State owns these lands and waters, they are considered to be held in trust for all of its citizens under what is known as the Public Trust Doctrine.
Under the Public Trust Doctrine, the State also owns coastal waters and lands within the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The State is said to own everything below the mean high water line and the upland landowner bordering the coastal waters owns everything above the mean high water line. Coastal upland owners have what is referred to as “littoral rights.” Littoral rights are very similar to riparian rights. Littoral rights include navigation, bathing and fishing, and also the rights of access to the water, reasonable use of the water, and an unobstructed view of the water. Further, coastal upland owners are subject to the natural forces of accretion and reliction, under the principles of which an upland owner and/or the State may gain and/or lose land area over time depending upon whether sand is deposited on the coast or eroded from the coastline. And you thought riparian rights had something to do with reptiles?