River navigability in Oregon has been debated for many years. The Department of State Lands manages the process to determine the navigability or public ownership of the bed and banks of rivers in Oregon, an incredibly time consuming and expensive process. The criteria for determining if the river is navigable and the bed and banks are owned by the public is based on whether the river, at the time Oregon became a state in 1859, was used, or could have been used, in its natural condition to transport people and goods. This determiniation typically requires a long research process, but for paddlers it is largely academic. This is because the question of who owns the bed and banks does not affect the right to float. In April 2005 the State Attorney General issued an opinion that under current state law the public has the right to use Oregon's rivers for recreation under two conditions:
1) If a waterway meets the federal test for navigability (i.e. “highways for navigation and commerce”), the state can not interfere with the public use of that waterway for navigation or recreation.
2) If the river does not meet the federal test for navigability (the case for many of the creek runs that Oregon is famous for) and the river bed is thus privately owned, the waterway is still navigable for public use if boats can make successful progress.
In other words even though a river is “non-navigable” and was not used for commerce at the time of Oregon statehood, you can still paddle on it if your boat can make successful progress. The Attorney General's opinion provides a good context for resolving some of the questions that existed regarding navigability in the state but new efforts to limit the public's right will likely emerge in future legislative sessions. As paddlers we all need to be aware of our stewardship responsibilties and the importance of maintaining good relations with riparian land owners. Remember that a single negative interaction between a boater and a landowner could threaten future navigability rights in the state. There are some who are looking for just such a “conflict” to provide evidence that navigability laws need reform. Our future rights to Oregon's Rivers depend on showing respect for those who own property along the river. Paddlers should also consider opportunities for demonstrating our commitment to rivers and addressing problems of resource degradation by participating in stewardship events. In both cases American Whitewater can help: if you have a negative interaction with a landowner let us know so we can document the occurence and if you are involved in organizing a river stewardship event we can help build publicity and promote the event.
For the past five years the Oregon State Marine Board has been engaging with the non-motorized boating community to learn how the Marine Board can better meet the needs of the community. The state's Non-Motorized Boating Advisory Committee made a unanimous recommendation to institute a Non-Motorized Boating Program that includes elements to address access, safety, education and funding. As an outcome of this process the Marine Board is proposing legislation for the 2017 legislative session that includes a new fee for paddlesports. We are seeking paddler input on this proposal.
The contacts below include staff and volunteers working on this project. Make sure you are logged in if you wish to join the group.
|Thomas O'Keefe||Seattle WA||Details...|
Oregon Navigability Law and Water Rights
January 9, 2001
Sandy River Found Navigable! (OR)
February 8, 2002
John Day River Found Navigable! (OR)
June 16, 2005
Rogue River Draft Navigability Report Issued
March 18, 2008
Rogue River Declared Navigable
June 13, 2008
Rogue River Navigable
October 8, 2007
Rogue River Navigability Considered, OR
August 17, 2004
Public Right to Navigability Upheld (OR)
August 30, 2005
Action Alert: Navigability in Oregon
June 8, 2005
Oregon Navigability: Current Legislation
April 29, 2005
Seeking Input on Oregon's Proposed Non-Motorized Boating Program
December 4, 2016
Public Hearing for Proposed Non-Motorized Boating Program in Oregon
February 26, 2017
The State Land Board has asked three questions about the ownership and use of waterways in this state.