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Letter to the Editor – Public Waterways

Every year the Ozarks receives many visitors to the area to enjoy our parks, waterways, businesses and festivals. Many visitors and locals have a very pleasant experience, but for some it can be not so pleasant when it comes to our rivers, creeks, and streams. When it comes to these issues many times local law enforcement ends up involved. According to Howell County Sheriff Mike Shannon, there are not many problems in his county due to there are not many open waterways in that area. According to Douglas County Sheriff Chris Degase, the main issue seems to be confusion of what areas are privately owned and what areas are public. However, when speaking with Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed, the problems arise when individuals are on the waterways and trespass onto private property and leave litter. Drugs and alcohol on and along the waterways are also a big concern. So what are the rights of the public and property owners when it comes to our waterways?

There are three types of waterways. According to the MU Extension, with the help of attorneys and MO. DNR the following applies in the state of Missouri.  There is public navigable, public non-navigable, and private non-navigable. A public navigable is when the waterway is large enough in its normal stage to float a commercial watercraft. The property owner who adjoins this waterway owns the land down to the water’s edge (low water mark). A public non-navigable is when the waterway in its normal stage is too small for commercial watercraft but is large enough to float a canoe or small fishing boat or logs. As for the property owner the boundary is said to run with the center thread of the stream. A landowner that is adjoining a public non-navigable waterway can remove sand or gravel from this portion of the waterway without permit and can only be used on that property and cannot be sold. A private non-navigable is a different story altogether. A private non-navigable is when a waterway in its normal stage is too small to float a canoe, small fishing boat or log. Adjoining landowners not only own the bed to the center thread of the waterway, but also have the right to control the use of such waterway in that area.

The water and wildlife in the waterways belong to the people of the state. State and federal agencies regulate the wildlife in these waterways. They also help regulate any contamination or destruction of these waterways. So when the public is out on the water should it be for swimming, wading, fishing, floating or boating it is best to keep this information in mind. You have the right to do all on public navigable and public non-navigable, but before entering or exiting these waterways you need to make sure that you are either on a public access or have prior consent from the property owner. If you enter onto private property you may not be met with a smile. In the past some property owners have allowed public access along the waterways, but after littering, and drug and alcohol issues they have had no other option but to put an end to that practice.

People also like to take ATVs along with them to camping areas or just to use locally. This is another thing to keep in mind. No person shall operate an off-road vehicle within any stream or river in the state of Missouri, unless it is within the boundaries of land which the operator owns. This is only allowed in such crossings that are customary or part of a highway system. This also applies to utility vehicles. All law enforcement, peace officers of this state, or its political subdivisions, or department of conservation agents or DNR park rangers shall enforce these provisions. For other laws regarding ATV use I would refer to MRS Section 304.0013.1 .

I hope this has helped clear up some misunderstandings when it comes to our waterways. Everyone can have a pleasant experience when respecting the right of others and using a little common sense. There are many other issues regarding our state’s natural resources that I would like to address in the future, but for now I hope everyone has a happy and safe season.

Dani Pace

Douglas County