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Title Navigability in Oregon
The History
 
1859
Oregon admitted to the Union.
 
 
1908
Oregon Supreme Court states that the Willamette River is a navigable stream and that the
submerged and submersible land underlying the river belong to the State.
 
 
1917
Senate Bill 289 enacted; declares that the title to the submerged and submersible land underlying  all navigable lakes in the State is “vested in and claimed by the State provided that the State had not previously sold the land.”
 
 
1921
House Bill 244 enacted; asserts Oregon’s sovereignty over all meandered lakes in Oregon.
 
 
1967
The 1917 legislation declaring title to navigable lakebeds to be vested in the State amended to also include the submerged and submersible land underlying navigable streams.
 
 
1973
Senate Bill 33 enacted; orders the Department to investigate and determine the “issue of navigability” for streams by July 1, 1977 on its own or at t​he request of a person or agency.  Provides that determinations of navigability would be binding on the Department, but not on other persons.
 
Senate Joint Resolution 3 adopted; directs the Land Board and the Department to study the lakes within the State and assert state ownership of the submerged and submersible lands on navigable lakes.
 
 
1975
Land Board takes position that the Rogue River is navigable from Grave Creek (RM 69) to the mouth, and reserved the right to examine the navigability of the river to at least Grants Pass.
 
 
1976
Land Board approves the Department's declaration that the McKenzie River was navigable from its confluence with the Willamette River to a point known as Dutch Henry Rocks at approximately RM 37.
 
The Land Board directs the Department to initiate an action in federal court to determine the navigability of the McKenzie River to affirm whether log drives are sufficient evidence of a river’s navigability.
 
The Land Board adopts OAR 141-081-0050(3) which declares the Umpqua River a navigable river from its mouth to the head of tidewater near Scottsburg at approximately RM 28.
 
 
1980
The U.S. District Court finds that logs drives were not sufficient evidence for a determination of navigability.  An appeal was filed by the State.
 
 
1981
Senate Bill 930 enacted; extends by four years the Department’s study of the navigability of the state’s rivers and amended statute to make periodic log driving during high water an insufficient basis for a navigability determinations without a judicial determination.
 
 
1982
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the McKenzie River was navigable between RM 37 and its confluence with the Willamette River based on log floating.  The court holds that the river was used in its ordinary condition as a highway for commerce when it was used for log driving and that the use “need not be without difficulty, extensive, or continuous.”
 
 
1983
The Department completes research document: “Report and Recommendation on the Navigable Waters of Oregon.”
 
Senate Bill 562 enacted; repeals statute requiring the Department to study the navigability of the state’s rivers and declares that the findings of the Department’s report were not to be considered evidence supporting or disproving navigability of a waterway.
 
The Land Board authorizes the Department to proceed with a navigability study of the Klamath River.
 
 
1986
Based on the results of  the Department’s research, the Land Board asserts ownership of the submerged and submersible land underlying of the Klamath River from RM 233 to the California border.
 
 
1994
United States District Court, District of Oregon, holds that Oregon owns the submerged and submersible land underlying the Chetco River to at least RM 11.
 
 
1995
House Bill 2697 enacted; provides clear guidelines regarding the conduct of navigability studies and the process of determining the navigability of a waterway.
 
 
1996
Land Board adopts administrative rules pursuant to the requirements of HB 2697.
 
The Department receives first request to conduct a navigability study of the Sandy River from RM 0.0 to 37.5 from the Association of Oregon Steelheaders.
 
 
1997
The Department advises Land Board that Steelheaders’ study request is complete and contacts all landowners along waterway asking for their input concerning study request.
 
HB 2898 enacted; forms the Joint Legislative Interim Committee on Navigability (JLICN) charged with examining navigability issues and reviewing navigability study requests.
 
The Department receives navigability study requests for the North Santiam (RM 27-43), Rogue (RM 68-158), South Umpqua (RM 25), John Day (RM 10-184) and Trask Rivers (RM 0-18).
 
 
1998
The Deparment receives navigability study requests for Kilchis (RM 0-10) and South Santiam Rivers (RM 0-38).
 
JLICN conducts public hearings throughout the state to gain an in-depth understanding of navigability issues.
 
The Department conducts workshops/group discussions to try to resolve navigability issues.
 
 
1999
JLICN disbands, with no recommendations made.  However, the JLICN acknowledges the following statement of the problem:  “The rights of the public to use the submerged and submersible land underlying waterways not declared navigable, is unclear/uncertain; similarly the rights of upland private property owners to restrict public use of the submerged and submersible land underlying
such waterways is unclear.  As such, law enforcement agencies, district attorneys and public agencies are uncertain of the extent and enforceability of public and private rights.”
 
The Department conducts workshops/group discussions to try to resolve navigability issues.
 
 
2000
Land Board authorizes the Department to conduct a navigability study on the Sandy River (RM 0-37.5) pursuant to the requirements of ORS 274.404.
 
The Department conducts workshops/group discussions to try to resolve navigability issues.
 
 
2001
The Department completes first draft of Sandy River navigability study; holds three public hearings to obtain public input on the evidence presented in the study.
 
The Department completes second revised draft of Sandy River navigability study.
 
Land Board holds public hearing to receive testimony.
 
 
2002
Land Board adopts the findings and conclusions of the Sandy River navigability study (that the Sandy River is navigable from RM 0.0 to 37.5) and asserts a state claim to that section of the river below the ordinary high water line.
 
Marion County Circuit Court jury finds the submerged and submersible land underlying the John Day River to be navigable below the ordinary high water line at the following two locations: River Mile 134.5 to 135.5 (in the vicinity of Burnt Ranch), and River Mile 17.5 to 22.5 (near the McDonald Ferry).
 
 
2003
Land Board directs the Department to begin conducting a navigability study of the John Day River from RM 10 (Tumwater Falls) to RM 184 (Kimberly).
 
An appeal of the Marion County Circuit Court decision on the John Day River is filed by the non-state defendants.
 
2004
Land Board authorizes Department to conduct a navigability study on the Rogue River (RM 68-158) pursuant to the requirements of ORS 274.404.
 
2005
Land Board adopts the findings and conclusions of the John Day River navigability study June 14 (that the John Day River is navigable from RM 10 to 184) and asserts a state claim to that section of the river below the ordinary high water line.
 
The Oregon Court of Appeals announces a decision May 11 that two segments of the John Day River (River Miles 21 and 135) should be considered navigable.
 
Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers April 21 issues a formal opinion analyzing current laws related to state ownership and public use rights for waterways in Oregon.
 
2006
Department conducts Rogue River navigability study research.
 
2008
Land Board adopts the findings and conclusions of the Rogue River navigability study June 10 (that the Rogue River is navigable from RM 68.5 to 157.5) and asserts a state claim to that section of the river below the ordinary high water line.
 
 
Additional Information:  PDF format
 
Summary of Opinions/Advice of the Oregon Attorney General Relating to Submerged and Submersible Lands (1928-1997)
 
The History of the Administration of Oregon's Submerged and Submersible Lands by the Oregon State Land Board (June 1996)
 
 
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