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When can Texas landowners restrict access to a stream?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Real Estate |

Those purchasing real property in Texas often gladly pay a premium price for land with streams running through it or nearby. Having a reliable source of water can make a major difference regarding someone’s use of a property.

However, sometimes people assume that they can access a stream without first checking the law. In Texas, state law has specific rules for whether or not the owner of a property can prevent others from accessing the stream that runs through their land. Both those seeking to protect the natural resources on a property they own and those hoping to gain access to a nearby source of water can benefit from reviewing the rules that apply to stream access in Texas.

There is a simple standard for public stream access

Sometimes, those living near a stream can make arrangements with the neighbor who has the stream on their property that will allow them access regardless of what state statutes say on the matter. When a property owner is not enthusiastic about granting access to the stream, people will potentially need to know and assert their rights. Whether or not a property owner can prevent people from accessing the stream and the streambeds on their property will depend on whether the stream is navigable or not. Obviously, if a stream is big enough to allow watercraft through, it will likely meet the standard for being navigable.

There are multiple tests, including whether a log can float down the stream, that can help clarify disputes about a stream’s status during a court case. There is also a statutory rule for judging whether a stream is navigable or not. For example, if the stream has an average width of 30 feet, it may be a navigable stream. Property owners can restrict access to the stream and its beds on their land if it is a non-navigable stream. If it is a navigable waterway, they cannot lawfully prevent others from accessing the stream itself or the banks of the stream on their property.

Conflicts about access to and utilization of streams in Texas can strain neighborly relationships and potentially diminish the perceived value of real property in some cases. Ultimately, learning more about how Texas handles disputes regarding different types of water rights – and seeking legal guidance whenever necessary – is important for those investing in real property or seeking to protect the resources at a parcel they already own.

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