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Ownership of Lakes in Oregon
FAQs
Lake Photo
Cullaby Lake Clatsop County photo Chris Castelli
 
Question: How many lakes are there in Oregon?
 
Answer: There are about 6,150 lakes and reservoirs larger than one acre, for a total of more than 520,000 acres.
 
Question: How many of these lakes are state-owned due to navigability?
 
Answer: It is difficult to say exactly how many lakes meet the federal navigability test for state ownership. However, in 1921 the Legislature enacted a law (ORS 274.430) stating all lakes that were meandered by the federal government are "declared to be navigable and public waters" and vesting the title to the submerged and submersible lands of such lakes in the State of Oregon. There are 75 lakes that have been meandered. According to a 1924 federal surveyor´s report, two lakes (North Tenmile and Tenmile) should have been meandered during the original survey.
 
There are an additional 15 lakes where past reports indicate there is sufficient evidence to support a title navigability claim. Of these, the State has actively pursued ownership on three - North Tenmile, Tenmile and Lake Ewauna (Klamath County).
 
Question: What does it mean that a lake was meandered?
 
Answer: According to the U.S. Government´s instructions to its surveyors in the late 1800s, when a navigable waterbody was encountered, a line was to be surveyed along the border of the waterbody (usually the line of ordinary high water) to denote its limits. Once done, the waterbody was said to be "meandered." The purpose of the practice was to allow the federal government to prepare an accurate plat (map) and estimate of acreage of upland available for purchase or grant.
 
Question: Does the state still have to prove ownership of meandered lakes?
 
Answer: Yes, if challenged. Oregon has made a clear "claim" of ownership to meandered lakes under ORS 274.430. However, like all navigability claims, even those based on evidence other than meandering, the State´s claim is challengeable in federal court. This occurred in the 1934 case concerning the Malheur Lakes near Burns United States v Oregon 295 U.S. 1 (1935). The U.S. Supreme Court determined that these lakes are non-navigable despite their being meandered, with title to the lake beds remaining in the United States when Oregon became a state.
 
 
Meandered Lakes in Oregon