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Use of State-Owned Waterways

The people of Oregon are the owners of the submerged and submersible land (“beds and banks”) underlying all navigable and tidally influenced waterways. In most cases, this ownership extends to the line of ordinary high water or high tide, but ownership can be mixed, even along the same waterway.  

The Department of State Lands is responsible for management of publicly owned submerged and submersible land. The public has rights to use the beds and banks of navigable waterways for any legal activity, such as boating, fishing and swimming, including pulling your canoe or kayak onto the bank.

Which waterways are state-owned?

The following water bodies have been determined to be navigable, and therefore state-owned, through legislative, judicial or administrative proceedings. 

Many Oregon waterways have not had a navigability determination, and therefore the ownership is unclear.

According to a 2005 Oregon Attorney General opinion, on waterways that have not been determined to be state-owned, the public is allowed to use the surface of the waterway for any legal activity unless the waterway isn’t wide, deep or long enough for a boat to pass along it.

Additionally, the opinion states that if the waterway meets the above criteria, the public has the right to use the submerged and submersible land below the line of ordinary high water for water-dependent uses (such as swimming, boating and fishing), and "uses incidental to a water-dependent use such as camping when travelling a long distance and walking while fishing." In cases of emergency or if it is necessary to travel around a barrier, the public may temporarily go above the line of ordinary high water. 

When using Oregon’s waterways: 

  • Always get the landowner’s permission to cross private land to get to the waterway
  • Be sure to launch and take out your boat at public facilities, such as parks
  • Avoid conflicts with landowners
  • If you see trash, pick it up and carry it out, but avoid trespass to do so
  • Obey laws and common rules of decency at all times

Uses of a state-owned waterway

The following are typical uses of state-owned submerged and submersible lands:
  • Houseboats
  • Boat ramps
  • Docks, floats and wharfs
  • Marinas and moorages
  • Marine industrial facilities
  • Bridges 
  • Utilities and pipeline crossings
  • Sand and gravel operations
  • Remedial cleanup
  • Non-water dependent commercial uses (restaurants for example)
Waterway Authorizations

Authorizations

Any of the uses described above require an authorization from the Department of State Lands. Authorizations include leases, licenses, easements, registrations and short-term access agreements. 

Note: A removal-fill permit may also be required from the Department for some structures.

For uses that are generally longer term and are either water- or non-water dependent requiring a lease or license. Most of these types of authorizations have annual rent or royalty payments and insurance requirements. The types of commercial uses requiring a lease or license include marine industrial, marine service, marinas, floating home moorages, and sand and gravel operations.​​​

Publicly owned structures and uses such as boat ramps, docks, fishing and swimming platforms, viewing structures, and navigation aids require a public facility license, which is free for the public agency for a term of 15 years. A $750 application fee is required.

Private uses and smaller structures such as a private boat dock, float or small boat house (under 2500 square feet), or floating recreational cabin (under 1500 square feet), and water-sport structures require a registration, which is a lower-cost, simplified authorization. Registrations are issued for a five-year period and require a nominal fee. 

Larger non-commercial structures require a lease, which includes a one-time $750 application fee and a yearly rental payment. 

​Required for long-term or permanent structures and uses on state-owned land. Types of uses include bridge and utility line crossings, erosion control structures and dredge spoils. Easements require a one-time compensation to the Department of State Lands at the time of issuance of the easement.

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​Used for short-term activities​​ with little to no impact on state-owned lands, such as academic research and short-term studies.​​​

​All environmental remediation and restoration activities proposed on state-owned lands require an authorization. The Department of State Lands adopted administrative rules in 2013 that govern these activities. Examples of such uses include monitored natural recovery, environmental dredging, site monitoring, sediment caps and other non-voluntary restoration. Prospective applicants for an easement, conservation easement or lease under these rules must meet with agency staff to discuss the proposed project and use before submitting an application to the Department. ​​

Authorization for remediation/restoration activity

​The Department offers leases and licenses for a wide variety of uses of state-owned land not authorized by other agency rules. A special use authorization allows a person to use a specific area of state-owned land under specific terms and conditions for a specific length of time. Such uses may include agricultural activities, communication facilities, industrial and commercial structures, recreational cabins, motion picture filming and set construction, renewable energy, scientific experiments, sporting events and sunken log removal.​

​Special Use Authorization​​​​


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