Become A Member
Learn how your membership helps protect our rivers and rights of use.
Learn More About River Law
Frequently Asked Questions »
FAQs about federal law regarding public ownership, use, and conservation of rivers
Why River Rights? »
NOR is the organization that focuses on achieving public-trust ownership of rivers, conserving rivers through public-trust ownership, and ensuring the public's legal rights to enjoy rivers
Why River Rights
The short answer is: because your rights to use rivers are in peril. If YOU and I don't defend the preestablished laws on rivers and have them properly enforced, no one else will. The government isn't working to clear this up because there's too much political controversy. The federal government doesn't want to assert authority when it doesn't need to for its own purposes. State governments don't want to acknowledge federal authority, which reduces their authority. The federal government and the 50 state governments have often done very little to confirm these public rights. The result has been gruesome death and felony melancing, and countless incidents of unnecessary confrontation, conflict, and violence. This is why NOR exists, and we need your support in order for progress to happen!
There is a BIG Difference throughout America between what the law says about rivers, and the way rivers are used in practice. NOR is the organization that focuses on achieving public-trust ownership of rivers, conserving rivers through public-trust ownership, and ensuring the public's legal rights to enjoy rivers.
The U.S. Supreme Court (and other federal and state courts) has repeatedly affirmed that the public owns rivers which are physically capable of being run, even if only in small watercraft such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts. They have also ruled that government agencies hold navigable rivers "in trust" for the public, so they are obligated to preserve rivers for navigation and recreation.
In practice, however, most government agencies, and most owners of land along rivers, think that only a few exceptionally large rivers, frequented by barges and ships, are "navigable," and that all other rivers are privately owned. The result is that literally thousands of miles of rivers throughout the U.S. are in an ambiguous state of ownership or public easement. Below and to the right is a photo of a landowner's fence posted across the North Fork of the South Platte River, which is a perfect example of a man-made obstruction meant to prevent public usage.
NOR is here to confirm public-trust ownership or easement of these thousands of miles of rivers by getting river navigability law applied in actual practice, on rivers large and small, throughout the U.S. We are working to conserve natural rivers, and to confirm your legal rights to canoe, kayak, raft, fish, walk along, and otherwise visit rivers, in non-consumptive ways.
So communicating this message is quick and easy, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not.
You would think that getting river law applied in actual practice on a particular river would be a relatively quick and simple court procedure. But the legal system is ponderous, and there are only a few attorneys and judges in the whole country who are familiar with river law. River enthusiasts cannot feasibly sue government agencies or private entities to preserve rivers and assure public access to rivers. Boaters cannot feasibly run rivers that are officially closed, and then win their river access disputes in local courts. And we don’t really need more court victories anyway; the higher courts have already repeatedly agreed with us. NOR and other river organizations and individuals have won past legal battles, but these victories have not been widely and consistently applied.
In the last century, there have been thousands of disputes over river rights. Injury, threats, and even death have occurred from people simply not knowing or understanding the law. River rights are a serious issue, but they can be resolved! NOR is here to unite the public and provide the clear message of what the law is, so public river rights can be accessed fully…now and forever.
We can't do this alone, we need your help and support. JOIN NOR in defending and communicating public rights on rivers so you and your future generations can have access to rivers!