HomeBoundary QuestionsRIparian RIghtsRiparian Rights in Tennessee

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Riparian Rights in Tennessee — 97 Comments

  1. I appreciate the info. My situatiuation: I have lived on my property for twenty years and have been using springs that are located on propertythat is owned by someone else. The springs has been used by the previous occupants of the house for 14 years and before that a family has used it for over 40 years. The springs have been used non-stop. The land that the spring is located on has been transferred three times since 1984. A mining permit has been issued by TDEC above the springs that I use. OSM has been to my home and stated that TDEC only listed one water source. I have three. The other that is on my property is a well that was recently placed by my brother who lives on my property as well.
    My question is: If my spring water is destroyed or damaged
    is there anything that I can do? What rights do I have?

    • Unfortunately, if the spring is destroyed, it is unlikely that be repaired. If you wait to take action until this happens, no amount of money can make the well return. So, I would recommend finding an attorney familiar with environmental and boundary law. While your right to use the spring on the adjoining land may not be spelled out in a deed, you may have prescriptive rights to it. To “fight” the Tennessee Department of Conservation, you will need to have a skillful attorney or a sympathetic bureaucrat.

      You may want to contact TDEC and determine if they are aware of your use of the spring. It would also benefit you to identify any others using this water before you start poking the bear. Build some allies but don’t miss an opportunity by waiting. Time isn’t on your side here. Remember, if saving the spring is what you are interested in, then you must do it BEFORE it is destroyed.

      • HELP ! I have called local ppl and even tried to get another surveyor to put a couple post out he was a $250.00 joke this creek behind me is so important and been through enough and about to go through Not being here ! My right of way road that I share we gave egress / just access to go to and from his property he stays there three years now and now has a bob cat industrial equipment and has clogged up the bridge with one bridge that came apart that we tore apart and now he is starting another one . Help us please he is constantly on our land and putting water on us I need help and not the finances for the attorney ! Help me save the creek he has anothe r legal right of way that he doesn’t even have to cross a creek !

        • Let’s look at your situation in more general terms:
          First off, a surveyor is not a legal advisor. They cannot make legal determinations nor force anyone to comply to the law. Property disputes are typically civil matters and not criminal. This means you are “on your own” when it comes to dealing the law enforcement (assuming it doesn’t escalate to a criminal situation).

          If you are having a dispute with a neighbor, these are some of the options I see that you have.
          1. Concede it all and move on.
          2. Be passive-aggressive and try to annoy the neighbor into compliance.
          3. Be aggressive and try to force the neighbor to act.
          4. Talk with the neighbor and try to work out a mutually agreeable solution.
          5. Talk with the neighbor and the two of you decide to go to mediation to resolve your differences.
          6. Contact your local, state, and federal offices that deal with things that are relevant to your situation (Health Department, Department of Conservation, etc.).
          7. Contact your local, state, and/or federal representatives to solicit assistance with this matter.
          8. Talk with an attorney and try to use their “power and influence” to resolve this matter.
          9. Through an attorney, sue the neighbor and take them to court.
          10. On your own (pro se), sue the neighbor and take them to court.

          Options 6-10 will require a survey and options 4 and 5 will also likely require a survey. Options 1-3 may be done without having an actual survey. Options 8 and 9 will require hiring an attorney. Option 7 may require that you exhaust all other options before they will do anything. Option 6 is potentially functional if you have a situation (like a creek is being destroyed) that falls under their purview. It doesn’t require that you spend hardly anything – although they will not decide ownership or rights, they will only deal with the elements that their department covers.

          In the end, you will likely need to spend money to get this resolved. It may be possible to sue for your expenses, but that is a conversation for either your attorney or the judge (if you are pro se).

    • Just wondering if any agency person would take on riparian rights at Reelfoot Lake. I aways wonder one day someone would challenge it and figure our what the law is. I don’t think anyone could say what the outcome would be. Land owners here has rights that lots of places don’t have. Back in the 1940’s Tenn realize that they needed to buy a buffer around the lake to make sure they would not have problems in Reelfoot future. What happen they like less than a half mile and did not finish. So I aways wonder what being a ripping landowner what’s could mean at Reelfoot. I have a good ideal but no one will ever talk and acknowledge about it. I feel like one of these days someone withenought money would take it own and see what the United States Supreme Court wold decide. You ever look at it

      • I am aware of the formation of Reelfoot Lake, but not anything about any issues of Riparian Rights. As it is on the other end of the world (read Tennessee), I don’t really have a dog in that fight. Might be something good for a PhD candidate to investigate.

  2. i live in tullahoma tn. my property is on bobo creek…my home loan requires i carry flood insurance….my neighbor owns an acre of land that the creek runs thru the middle of…he has completely leveled the creek to make a personal golf course..im worried now that it puts me at risk of flood since he has altered the waterflow. It is to my understanding that no natural waterway can be altered without permits.

    • This is not strictly true. If the use is deemed agricultural, it may be exempt from permits. Even if permits were required, it isn’t necessarily a given that he would have to return the land to its prior condition. Furthermore, if this creek is not deemed, “waters of the state” by the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC), then permits may still not be required. My recommendation is that you contact your local TDEC office and discuss with them the ramifications of his alteration to the stream. I would also recommend you speak with the neighbor as well to determine if there is something he is willing to do to ensure the safety of your property before you sought legal action. The only other thing I would recommend is that you contact an attorney. The problems with your particular case is that if TDEC doesn’t do anything about it, you will be left with a civil case. That will require that you provide expert testimony on the impact of the change to the waterway upon your property. There is only one person (or class of people) that can do this – an engineer. This will not be a low cost endeavor but it might be worth it to you. Only you can decide how much you are willing to invest before pursuing this course of action. I would also like to note that you have one other thing to contend with; you have to deal with this person as a neighbor. You will need to include that when weighing your options.

  3. I am dealing with a utility district who has provided city water to everyone on my street except me. My property doesn’t have a house on it. The property is farm land – agriculture. I am selling my property, and thought I would have access to city water. The utility district crossed over in to another county (my county) to provide water to 3 residents that live about 400 feet from me. When I inquired about hooking my property up to the utility district water line, the district told me no. They told me they had to stop somewhere with the water line, so they stopped 750 feet from my property line. I even told them I would pay to have the line installed and they still told me no. They told me I would have to run my own line in front of my neighbors home on their property and get permission from my neighbor to do so. The water company had to run the line down the street before putting the neighbors meter on his property. The utility district said they were not saying they didn’t service my area, they said they were not going to go any further with the line. Can they do this OR do I have any recourse?

    • Unfortunately, this is a question for a lawyer. There are many factors that can be at play here: capacity, pressure, access, etc. Beyond the legal, you have to contend with the engineering issues. The first step would be to talk to the engineering department within the Utility and discuss the ability to serve your property. Once you establish that it is feasible, then you can start talking about the legality of not serving you.

    • It has been years since I posted my question. The water district refused to extend the water line any further. I approached the neighbor, and asked if I could run my water line in the ditch, under his driveway entrance, so that I could hook on to the utility water meter. He told me no. Therefore, he is blocking my access to city water. He offered to buy my property for what the tax office states it is worth, I declined his offer. Can I do anything legal about this? Thanks.

      • If you cannot negotiate with the neighbor and the area in question is not within a right of way, I would say you would likely need to retain a lawyer. You could try to sue yourself without representation, but this could be a tricky situation.

  4. Focus on Grainger Co TN hydrodynamics,Cowan Valley Cowan Lake mini dam destroyed by one of the ex owners because “people fish whith no permission” This mini dam was dynamited ,it had a role in taming the creek to prevent flood on the main creek Rich Valley Creek;it looks like it is a legal problem to be solved in court- we the people want to restore the dam ,to be taken over by the County and maintained as part of the water control. Also if a creek which has many tributaries and provoke a lot of flood damages crosses a private property who should maintain it- mainly huge trees which are blocking the free flow of water and should be cut and transported out of the property ?So the water belongs to the State but the huge trees are on the owner ? We have to find the TnAnnCode dealing with these creeks Thank You Gabriel

    • Technically, the Tennessee Department of Environment Conservation (TDEC) has some governance here as well as the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). Altering a stream bed requires an ARAP permit (from TDEC). However, I am not sure how the CORP or TDEC respond post alteration.

      The destruction of a dam is something that I am sure has legal ramifications. This is WAY over my pay grade. You can look to either TDEC or even the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for help.

      As for keeping the stream clear of debris, that too is a tricky endeavor. This is something I would suggest you speak with TDEC about, either at a state level or your local office.

      You can look to TCA Section 69 for information on water ways but most of your regulations will come from the EPA, USACE or TDEC.
      You can find the Tennessee Code Annotated here: http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/tncode/

  5. I was wondering if me and my cousins could take kayak or canoes down creeks around my house and fish with out getting on the shores of the creeks or If the property owners could stop us from doing so or charge us with trespassing the creeks would include Hines creek which starts in union county behind my house and runs into the clinch. Also bull run creek which also starts in union county behind my brothers house thanks for any info you can give me.

    • That, I cannot speak to exactly. From another life, I had a friend who was a caretaker of a large tract of land in Missouri that had a huge spring on it. This spring fed into the North Fork of the White river. Throughout the summer, there were literally thousands of canoers who floated past; many who wanted to try the “white water” that flowed from the spring. Being a Sheriff’s deputy, my friend was up on Missouri law and had stated that they have the right to use the waters of the state, but not to “use” any land. Not only could they not get out of the water, they couldn’t stand on the stream bed.

      I cannot tell you whether Tennessee and Missouri laws are the same, or even similar in regards to trespassing over the water. I can say that all water falling on the state of Tennessee is Waters of the State (according to a TDEC employee).

    • This is a question for your state department of the environment. Similar to the EPA, Tennessee has the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC). Then “control” all waters of the state. They are the entity to whom you would “complain” about someone damaging a stream bed. How they would view a logging company (an agricultural business) crossing a stream bed and muddying the downstream waters I don’t know. I wish I could tell you more, but I would suggest that if you are not happy with the way this company is treating a stream, you should file a complaint with TDEC (or your state’s equivalent).

  6. The creek we live on runs directly through my driveway. You have to cross the water to get to my house. We own the land and it’s private property. People are starting to use our driveway as a public access to gain entry to bring their vehicles into the creek. Do we gave a right to stop them from using our driveway?

    • Assuming there is no easement granting someone right to cross your property, you more than likely have the authority to block access. Technically, the water may be owned by the State, but the land it flows across is not (assuming it isn’t listed as a navigable waterway). You may be able to float on the water without touching the land, and that may not constitute trespass. However, once you touch the bottom of the creek or it’s banks, you are trespassing.

      There are ways for someone to gain the right to use that creek access (prescriptive rights) but it would take a court order to grant it. Barring an explicit recorded easement, no one has the right to cross your land without your permission (except surveyors, we are exempt from trespass prosecution).

      You will probably want to look into trespassing laws and enforcement to ensure you don’t do anything that can get you in trouble. Just know that it isn’t your responsibility to prove they don’t have the right to cross you, it is their responsibility to prove they do.

  7. If a river is behind your house, can the homeowner claim the land all the way to the edge of the river and put up no trespassing signs? Can they purchase the river bank?

    • Rivers and creeks may be different in how they are owned. This is a case-by-case issue. Read your deed and see what it states about the river. In Tennessee, we typically own to the centerline, except some of the more major rivers were you may only own to the top of the river bank. Either way, you can post your property, the question becomes, “what is your property?”

  8. I own a home on a private lake that is owned by a resort. When I purchased the home it was listed a water front property that we can fish and included a paddle boat to use on the lake. The resort owner has recently put up a rope an “no trespassing ” sign blocking our lake access. Do we have any rights to get our lake access back?

    • Unfortunately, this is a legal question. If you do not have or want to retain a lawyer, you should look to your title work to see if you have any access written and recorded. Check with whoever told you that you have these rights. Talk with the title company, Realtor, and look into any title insurance you may have. Beyond that, you will need to employ an attorney to represent you I am afraid.

  9. I have a neighbor who has a corrigated plastic pipe that extends from his drain spout and goes underground between the two properties into my yard,and empties from a slope onto my backyard. So after every heavy rain there’s a water erosion ditch that extends down the slope and into another neighbors yard, where it disperses more evenly. Can anything be done about this other than me paying to run more pipe underground the length of my backyard to the street? All the homes in this neighborhood seem to have these pipes but I don’t know of any other that just dumps water on the surface?

    • That is definitely a question of easements. I don’t believe a person can legally pour water over onto another, but I am not a lawyer and can’t really answer that. Without the specifics of the property, the title work, the easements in place, etc, it is nearly impossible to make an accurate answer to that.

      I can say that it is quite common around here in East Tennessee that subdivision lots have a utility and drainage easement running around the perimeter of all lots. The width can vary, but in most cases I have seen, they are typically 5 or 7.5 feet on either side of interior lot lines and 10-15 feet inside exterior lot lines.

      This means that the utility company (or your neighbor) can run lines or drainage down the property lines. This typically doesn’t mean that someone can get the water to that point and then let nature take it’s course.
      My lot is downhill of my neighbor’s lot. The normal runoff from their lot flows (in a sheet) down across mine. This is “natural” so I don’t believe there is much I can do, legally.
      I don’t believe that changing flow (putting runoff in a pipe does that) is considered natural runoff and therefore may be subject to more legal issues.

      As far as I know, no government is going to deal with the runoff from a house downspout so I doubt there are issues of eminent domain, but you will need to verify if there are easements in place. Do some title work, see if there is any legal encumbrance of your land for their use or for the use of the neighborhood. Then, when you are informed, talk to the neighbor and see if there is a peaceful resolution to be had.

  10. My water supply line crosses a creek on my own property. Are there any regulations preventing me from digging underneath the creek and putting my replacement line in a sleeve under the bed of the creek?

  11. I have a question about the laws in tennessee on a pond there is a pond on a 1/4 acre that adjoins my property on two side the owner does not maintain pond he will not sell it to me so I can clean it up is it required for the owner to have a fence around pond by state of tennessee

    • I believe this is a question for a lawyer, but I have never heard of any requirement for an individual to fence anything. Perhaps this person should, just for the sake of liability of someone getting into it, but I believe that is their choice to go unprotected.

  12. I’m glad I found this post. I bought a farm a couple of years ago. My neighbor has been piling brush and rocks on his side of a small creek preventing it from spreading out during flood times as it should. Every inch my banks erode causes him to gain an inch. The plat says the property line is the center of the creek following several points with calls and distances. Is the property line still the center of the creek or will a surveyor set pins according to the points with calls and distances. I would say I’ve lost as much as 20 or 30 feet in spots.

    • Theoretically, the centerline of the creek would hold over the calls on the map. However, you may have a case based on your neighbor altering the stream’s channel by obstructing the natural flow. This would be a call for an attorney well versed in land law and would likely require a judges decision. The biggest hurdle I can see is proving that his obstructions have made a significant difference in the erosion pattern. That will likely take an engineer’s opinion. As you can see, the answer and subsequent judgment may cost more than the lost land is worth. If you are just wanting to prevent further erosion based on his obstructions, you might try contacting your local Department of Environmental Conservation. They may have an opinion on the obstructions.

      (this opinion is based on my work within Tennessee)

  13. Creek runs through our back yard, the plot of land below us was purchased some years ago, they put a pond in the middle of the creek (dams the creek) & altered the flow of the creek. Our yard now floods, has caused our yard to stay wet which has caused structural issues with our home (foundational etc). There are numerous springs in the area which utilized the drop of the old creek location and are now backing into/onto our property. The creek used to have a 12 foot drop over approximately 150 feet where the pond was put in. Other than a lawyer do we have any recourse, we have spoke with the land owner numerous times & he doesn’t believe his pond is causing our problems.

    • I would say your first stop would be your local and/or state Department of Conservation (TDEC in Tennessee). I would say there might be a means of solving the issue with the damn, but I would guess that you will have to litigate the damages. Contact your local stormwater person, talk with them.

    • You can do anything you want. You just have to be prepared to deal with the consequences.

      No Fishing License Needed If:
      • Landowners, their spouses and children, who fish on their farmland which is owned by an individual or a family. Landowners, their spouses and children must be residents of Tennessee but need not reside on the land.
      • Tenants, their spouses and dependent children who fish on farmland owned by an individual or a family. Tenants, their spouses and dependent children must be residents of Tennessee and must actually reside on the land and have permission of the landowner to fish. A tenant is a person who, for money or free rent, or other consideration, cares for farmland. The tenancy must be agricultural in nature.

      *from the TWRA website (https://www.tn.gov/twra/license-sales/fishing-licenses.html)

  14. We live on Douglas (Baneberry to be exact), where our property is deemed agriculture. We own to the middle of the lake here, “supposedly”. If we own it, why do we have to pay permits to put a dock on our dry land that part of the year, the water comes up to…it is after all, our land? This seems very illegal.

    • The land was “acquired” by TVA back in the 1940’s when they built the dam. Unlike many of the lakes around here, most of that land was given back to the landowners after TVA imposed a flowage easement over it. I don’t know the specifics of those easements, but I assume that that is what gives them the authority to control docks. After all, a dock is impeding on the flowage easement, because if it weren’t, it wouldn’t touch the water.

      As for paying for a permit, one is required to pay for a permit to build a home on one’s own land, why should a dock be any different?

  15. We are attempting to buy 11.6 acres of a 13 acre pond. Another party will own 1.4 acres in a cove.
    1. Are property lines established in the pond with survey similar to land? If need be could we place a fence on pond across this line ( barb wire or roped buoy)
    2. Does the minority owner have rights to use of entire pond without permission or can we legally tell them to stay off our portion?
    3. What are our controlling rights in regards to our portion of pond? Other than insurance what can we do to protect ourselves of liability? (kid drowning, etc.) How binding is a usage contract with limitations on what and how to be used?

    • About the only question of that that I can answer is Yes, property lines are established based on the land under the pond and therefore are done the same as any other boundary. As to the rest, you would need to contact an attorney familiar with land law in your area.

    • I don’t know. I know there are plenty of homes that are using spring water, albeit they predate most modern regulations.
      I would ask the health department.
      Now, just because it is legal may not mean you should do it. Subsurface water around here is often contaminated. I cannot imagine that runoff water would be less polluted. At least with subsurface water, the water has filtered through soils and rock to reduce many of the contaminants. A stream would likely contain all sorts of icky things: animal faeces, pesticides, leaching from old dump sites, etc.

  16. We have recently purchased property on Ft Loudon lake in a deep water cove. Supposedly the land across the cove, which is undeveloped, property line reaches out to encompass the land under the water and comes to within a few feet of my dry land. My property line is the 813 contour line. Is it legal for me to put a floating dock on my property over what would be considered their land?

    • Honestly, I have a hard time keeping up with the various lakes here. TVA treated each lake different during construction. Some lakes TVA “purchased” the land for the lakes and flooded them. For others (like Douglas) the “purchased” the land, wrote flowage easements on the land, and then gave most of the land back to the landowners. So, on Douglas Lake, one can own the land under the water and because the lake level varies so significantly (upwards of 50′ at Douglas Lake), one may have to trespass on another’s dry land to get to their dock. Other lakes don’t have this situation, either because TVA retained ownership or because the variation in lake level isn’t too significant.

      So, because I don’t know the answer, I looked. TVA didn’t have the answer either. They have a phone number to call. Here is a link to their FAQ regarding dock permitting.

      • Thank you, I can’t get a straight answer from them. One person says one thing and another says something different. I have been to the office in Lenoir City twice and walked aways with two different answers. I can’t find anything in print and they don’t have anything either. I can’t believe it is this hard to find out what should be documented some place. I don’t want to spend 500.00 for an application only to not be able to do a dock. Thanks for your help though.

        • Did you ever find an answer to your question? I have a similar scenario where I own a dock and want to install floating jet ski docks but the docks will float on the water above the owned adjacent property so can that person tell me to remove them?

          • I am going to go out on a limb here. If you are wanting to expand your dock, your permit will likely need updating. Like I replied earlier, you will likely need to actually file for the permit before you will know for certain if it will be approved or not. They gotta make money somewhere (apparently).

        • It is not uncommon for bureaucracies to hem/haw around.
          Unfortunately, you may need to bite the bullet, pay the fee, and file for a permit to get the answer you are looking for. In the end, no matter what someone says beforehand, it all comes down to the person writing the permit.

  17. Our neighborhood has a manufactured lake. The surface water runoff through the yards and streets largely leads to the lake. A vast amount of water flows through our yard on its way to the lake, and does cause flooding concerns for our house. We have done a lot to keep the water on its course toward the lake. Our neighbors have begun attempting to divert and block the water flow. Are we right in our belief that there are statues that state that a person can’t divert the natural flow of surface water and block it from its course?

    • That is a tricky question. The reality is that most people will do whatever they want and the law is mostly powerless to deal with it. If their “work” is impacting others’ lands, then you may be right. However, I am not a lawyer and cannot say for sure. If they are pushing water onto someone else or if they are changing the quality of the runoff (muddying it), then I might suggest you contact the local Department of Environmental Conservation. Many counties in Tennessee have their own office, but if your’s doesn’t, then you might reach out to the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

      Of course, I would suggest talking with the neighbor before I escalated the dispute. It might make for a hostile home environment if you jump right to the authorities.

  18. There is landscaping company on Whites Creek Pike that’s separated from our subdivision (Creekside) by the Whites Creek. In 2010 there was a major storm that flooded a large portion of Nashville Tn including the Bordeaux community. After the flood the following year a concrete wall was built directly behind the landscaping co.on the side of the creek as a buffer to keep water from cresting over the banks and on to their property. The problem is whenever there’s a strong rain water has begun sweltering higher on the subdivision community, backing up water on the streets and making them impassable. If there is another major flood in Nashville as in 2010, were concerned the water could do more damage to our property because of the wall built will change the (trajectory),normal direction of the flow of water away from them and into our subdivision endangering lives and property. How where they able to get permission to build a wall and is that legal. The length of the wall is as long as a football field. What recourse do we have in either having it removed or civil engineers to come out an determine the magnitude of danger and damage it could cause to ease our concerns?

    • There are all sorts of legal and other issues that may govern this. I really can’t speak to the specifics of this, but in general, if this creek has an established floodway and they have altered it, then they are subject to TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation), potentially the US Army Corp of Engineers, the County DEC, and other agencies I would guess.

      My first call would be to the city/county department of conservation. Find out if there were permits for the wall. If so, then the issue of flooding onto the subdivision may fall onto the city/county rather than the landscape company. If no permit was issued, there may be all sorts of things coming their way. No matter, the start would be the DEC.

      Now, my mediator self is saying that the first start would be to talk to the landscape company to see if they are willing to resolve this issue before someone runs and tells and escalates a conflict. But that is a personal call and one no one but you can make for yourself.

  19. We have a blue line creek that runs through our farm for about 1/4 mile. Along the banks it is all overgrown with brush and junk trees. It has not been maintained for years. We would like to go in there and remove all the brush, small struggling trees, and other debris. We will keep any tree that is healthy and bigger than six inches diameter. We won’t do anything to interrupt or interfere with the flow of water or the tree canopy. Do I need a permit to do this?

    • Probably. In fact, if the stream has an established floodway, you are not technically supposed to do anything to change the flow, including clearing brush.
      Some will argue that clearing brush changes the nature of the stream and can impact the aquatic and terrestrial life dependant on it. That being said, in Tennessee, if you are doing things for agricultural purposes, many of the conservation laws are not applicable. The best advice I can give to you is if you don’t know, ask.

      Or, you can do what Grace Murry Harper said, “It is better to beg…”

    • Very possibly. The waters may be owned by the state, but the ground underneath them may be privately owned. You would need to see the deeds to know (and possibly state law on interpreting who owns what). In some states, if the waterway is considered navigable, the state owns the bed. In many, they only own the water.

      What constitutes navigable is different in each state. For example, in Arkansas, if a waterway supports commerce, it is considered navigable. They then established that companies renting canoes and innertubes for people to float downstream on constitutes commerce. Subsequently, the State then owned the riverbeds and could harvest the gravel from them to build roads.

  20. Recently bought a 45 acre tract about 3 miles west of the Tn river. A small creek borders the property on the east side. I want to construct a 2-3 acre pond in the vicinity of the creek. How far from the slope of the creek can I construct the pond?

    • Don’t know… I would think that will depend on how the State classifies the stream. Also, it will depend on what you intend on using this pond for. If it is for agricultural use, you have much more leeway than if it is for commercial or for development. My recommendation is to contact TDEC or your local conservation office and discuss this with them.

  21. I have a creek that surrounds 1/2 of my property. On the other side of the creek is a field. When it rains hard my property floods. The creek, closest to my driveway has a 110° turn then another 110° in it to continue its natural flow. I have trees that have fallen in the creek and am experiencing considerable erosion at these two hard bends. My question is regarding altering the flow. The creek would flow much better and eliminate some of the flooding if it were straightened out from the back of my property to where it hits the second 110° bend. There is ample room to dig it straight through and use the dirt from the new cut through to backfill the existing path of the flow of the creek. Who do I contact and where do I start to find out if this is even a possibility. Thanks

    • Your quest should start with your local department of conservation. It may lead you to the state level office or the US Army Corp of Engineers. It may be possible to rechannel your creek, or it may be protected.

  22. I live in Cheatham Co. Sams Creek runs on my property. My water line is running straight across the creek, (originally) buried under the creek gravel, I’d assume near bedrock. Over time, the creek gravel elevations and locations have changed due to the flow of water. At least 12 feet of my water line is now exposed. What am I allowed to do in order to fix the problem? I’d love to dig a drainage pit during dry weather, keep the pit pumped out, and hammer out a trench in the bedrock where I could then lay new water line, sleeve it, and concrete over it. Does this sound doable? If so, what do you think I’d need in the way of permits? An ARAP maybe?

    Also, TDOT dumped a bunch of boulders off the side of the Hwy (Sams Creek Rd) in order to deflect the creek away from the road base. I totally understand the need for this. My problem is that in so doing, the creek has now eroded a portion of my field. I’d say 15-20’ of creek bank has been eroded, shrinking the size of my property. Any suggestions as to who might be of the most help in the way of government agencies?

    I’ve found this thread most fascinating! Thank you for your time and hard work! You’re responses are exceptionally well written and informative.

    • There is an old adage, easier to seek forgiveness than approval. That being said, an ARAP permit sounds likely. I would start with the Department of Environmental Conservation and also perhaps reach out to the US Army Corp of Engineers.

      As for the change in the flow of the creek: My best guess on this is also the Department of Environmental Conservation. A lot will hinge on if TDOT obstructed the floodway or not. It is hard to fight with a governmental agency, especially when the support you need to fight with is also a governmental agency. You may need to have an engineer perform a flood study to show that the damage to your property was directly caused by TDOT’s actions and that can be costly. I wish I could give you better news on this, sorry.

  23. The drainage creek bordering the back of my heavily wooded property flows to Savannah Bay in Ooltewah. It is marked as a TVA Flood Storage Easement. There are also state wetlands on my property. Over time and due to a couple of tornadoes, trees have fallen into the creek further downstream behind other lots that I don’t own. This is causing a blockage of the drainage and all of us upstream are suffering some pretty extreme flooding situations. Who is responsible for clearing that drainage creek if anyone is at all?

    • Honestly, I am not sure who would be responsible. When I worked out in Arkansas and it snowed, the local county took the attitude, “God put it there, God will take it away.” They didn’t prep/clear any roads. I am afraid the state may also take the same attitude with this issue. Your first step would be to contact the local Department of Environmental Conservation and if you don’t get any satisfaction from them, call the state office.

      As to who is responsible to clear it? The only way I can tell you to solve that if no one volunteers is to sue everyone and I hate telling anyone to hire an attorney.

  24. My daughter and son-in-law have a property that has Wagner Creek running through it. When there is a heavy rainstorm Wagner Creek overflows and floods the lower pasture and the woods. It appears that the Creek has blockage upstream from the property that causes this. Is there any Tennessee agency that might be helpful in getting this problem corrected?

    • I believe you mean the blockage is downstream. Upstream would actually help prevent flooding. Irrelevant, you would likely need to talk with the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation. There may be a local office at the county level you could talk to as well.

  25. Timothy, thanks for answering all of these questions over the years. Reading your responses certainly broadens my knowledge.

    My particular question is this: I own a small property that has a retaining wall against a creekbed. My deed description is clear that my property ends at the wall and doesn’t continue towards the creek. Three feet from the bottom of my wall and on the creekbed is a Greenway maintained by a municipality’s parks department. I will need to complete some repairs to the wall, so whose permission will I need for access? The city who has an easement for their Greenway, or the state who the city claims owns the creek? This is in Lewisburg, TN in Marshall County. Since any repairs will be made below a flood line, will I also need permission from some other entity? Thanks.

    • I would hazard a guess that whoever owns the property fee-simple would be the one that you would have to get permission from. If you will be obstructing the easement in the process of the repairs, you would also likely need to get permission from the city.

  26. Whom ever you would call the intruders behind me, on map 58 acre land dont exist, although these ppl have been trying to sabatoge me from day 1….. they are on their last idea which is turn waterway, small creek norris, yes I live on creek, when you have heard and seen tractor at midnight twice in 2weeks notice waterway has turned thru flow toward my home….. 1940 home built never had a issue….. no crops involved…. I own to middle of creek… they want to get rid of me altogether….. illegally they have no septic they run pipes to creek….. I need help…..plz

    • This is a question for a lawyer. You will likely need to have a survey done and law enforcement may need to be involved. Your first stop is an attorney though.

  27. Sumner County has put in a drainage ditch in front of my neighbors houses (3). The ditch ends at the end of the “Sumner County Maintenance” line which is the beginning of my private gravel drive. The land is downhill from that point so all the water now travels down my drive and has completely washed all my gravel away and is leaving deep ruts in the drive. With every rain more and more damage is being done. I have contacted several departments and they just keep saying, “We aren’t responsible for private property.” This morning they actually came out and posted a huge sign stating; “End of County Maintenance” at the end of the blacktop. I feel very insulted! Is there anything I can do? Oh, there is a creek at the bottom of the hill with bridge so this is my only entrance to the property. thanks for any help or suggestions.

    • It sounds as though some historical background on the flow of water there will be needed. If they didn’t reroute the water and only smoothed the way… However, if they changed the path of the water and caused damage on your end, then that is a different ballgame.

      I hate to say it, but you will likely need to contact an attorney.

  28. Can a neighbor block you from utility district water. I have been told by the water district,that they will put in a water meter at the country line, but I would need to run my own line to my property. The only way I can run my own line would be to put the water line in the neighbors ditch that is located 12 inches from the road. My neighbor has said no, does this neighbor have legal rights to block public utility water?

    • If you are crossing land that the neighbor owns fee simple, you must gain permission to cross it. You do not have the power of eminent domain. It may be that there are easements in place or it may be that the ditch you claim is only 12″ off the road is within the road right of way and not part of the neighbor’s land.

      Either way, a survey would identify these issues. Contact a local surveyor and have one done. You will likely need a signed plat showing where the ditch is in relation to the neighbor’s property if/when said neighbor tries to stop you.

  29. We own property on a 75 acre lake that’s private to only land owners in Sparta Tn. The earth dam needs repaired but the property owners has denied access for us to repaire the dam that’s leaking. What are our options thanks in Advance Steve

  30. Can a neighbor block access from other neighbors trying to clean up an earth dam for inspection that’s on private property this dam starting to leak Thanks Steve..

    • That would depend on whose land the damn is on. This would inevitably be a legal question that would require talking to an attorney. That, or contact the Division of Stormwater for your area and see if there is anything they can do.

  31. Our property has a creek on the property line. We were told that we can’t do anything to the creek ( removing dead trees, clearing out brush, etc.) as it’s a state protected waterway. My question is that since we aren’t allowed to maintain the creek, who is? There are 2 large trees in the creek bed that have been dead for some time and I’m concerned that they could come down on our neighbors’s roof. Should that happen, is it our responsibility?

  32. I live in Franklin County i am having an issue with a neighbor that has restricted the road tile so that the water back up onto me. I’ve tried to reason with him but to no avail. He has dumped dirt in front of the drain but off the county right away. i really could use some advise on rather or not I could win if i take him to court.

    • I cannot say if you can win or not. I do know that you can contact the county department of environmental conservation (DEC) to see if they have a remedy for you.

      I don’t believe someone is allowed to make changes that can impact another piece of land, but that is for a judge to decide. Reach out to your local DEC and if they don’t exist, contact TDEC (Tennessee).

  33. Pingback:Is It Illegal to Collect Rainwater? | Survival Sullivan

    • Any question that opens with “is it illegal” is a lawyer question.

      However, as far as I know, collection, storage, and usage of rainwater is not illegal in Tennessee.

  34. Today I see a tree has fallen across the Blue Springs Creek in Greeneville, TN. The tree was very tall and the top 6 ft. are laying on my barbed wire fence. Another large partial tree has fallen across it and now the water way is also blocked in the creek causing debris to collect and not allowing a clear flow of water. The fallen trees are a result of bank erosion. I would like the top part of tree cut off my fence line however I do not know who to contact for help or to report this problem. Can you help me?

    • Likely, you would need to contact either your local Department of Environmental Conservation or the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation. That is if you want to ask for permission. Sometimes it is easier to get forgiveness than permission. Maybe contact the adjoining landowner and see if they are willing to help.

  35. Can you access a naviagable creek or river at a bridge to fish or launch a boat. I thought I read where TDOT and TWRA had a Park and float agreement at bridges on county roads.

    • I have absolutely no idea. I could speculate, but that would all it would be.
      TDOT only could have that at state roads. If this is a county or city road, you would have to talk to the locals.
      As for TWRA, if they do have an agreement, you should be able to search their site for it – maybe. Government web sites are not always the most forthcoming with information.

      Honestly, I would think the ability to fish from a bridge would come down to whether you obstruct traffic or not. Even if you physically don’t, you may still hinder traffic.

      As for boat launching, I don’t see how you could launch one from a bridge. It may be possible to go beside one, but then you may not be on the right of way and therefore would be trespassing. I don’t think the navigability of the waterway has much to do with this.

  36. Hello! My husband and I purchased a 5 acre property in 2012. Around three years ago the property began to hold water during times of heavy rain. We have a mostly dry, but labeled creek bed that runs through our property. During times of heavy rain when we initially purchased the property the creek would fill, without flooding out property. We have a cross street 4 lots down (all lots are about 5-10 acres, and under the cross street are two large culverts (at least 4 feet across each to handle sudden large volumes of water under the street). The property the culverts empty to was initially vacant, and is almost 10 acres. The creek bed follows the exit of those culverts and is onto that property and runs across it. Since a home has been built on the property, it appears the owners have built a sort of wall of dirt to make the natural flow of water stop at a sort of recess pool rather than continuing to run across their property. Now they have heavy equipment and appear to be digging that pool out further and it appears it will cause the water to back up even more. Our property has experienced multiple floods, with up to 18 inches of standing water in most places (luckily no intrusion to the home or barn), but it makes the land swampy when it never was before. It is also flooding every neighbor’s yard between our house and the new construction. We are talking acres of flooding here that used to not flood. Also, I am concerned we are in a limestone area we are going to eventually have sinkholes that arise from this on all the property that is unusually holding water as well.
    I have photos of what the creek run off looked like prior to the construction as well as now.
    Where do I start?
    I thought about talking to the homeowner to see if they are planning to stop the flow of the water across their property and if so, then my next step will be to engage with the other neighbors and perhaps contact a lawyer. Thoughts?

    • The place to begin is to talk with the neighbor and express your concerns. If you are not satisfied with their response, the next step would be to reach out to the local Department of Environmental Conservation. It may be that they are violating something by changing the creek flow. It might not. This will point you in the right direction as to whether you need to retain an attorney.

  37. Looking at purchasing land which has a creek across the front property line do i need to get a permit to put a bridge or culvert in to access my property

    • Typically, yes. There are many who live by the motto, “Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” However, this can lead to very costly issues. Now, if the creek isn’t defined with a floodway and you can install the bridge without causing any damage or change to the flow/ground around the creek, I don’t think you would need an ARAP permit. However, if you will be in the water at all, then by all likelihood, you would.

  38. Hello Timothy, We own some acreage in Greene county. The boundary of one portion is the middle of a stream, and the stream also crosses the property in another area, so we own both banks there. Can we take water out of the stream for a garden or to water livestock? There is no power on the property, so would it be possible for me to set up a small hydraulic ram pump to do move the water up a hill? Thank you!

    • Assuming you have legal access to said stream, as far as I know, you can use the water within it. I am sure there are guidelines regarding pumping it dry or damming it up but provided you are not damaging the water quality, I would hazard a guess that you are good.

  39. Is it legal for a landowner to alter a TN river in order to prevent people from passing through? Case in point, Little Sequatchie River in Marion County TN. A family purchased 300 acres and started a farm and immediately altered the natural course of the river with heavy equipment to prevent anyone from having access to the river or lands beyond. We camped there all our lives and we also have a family cemetery past his property that we are unable to access now. We tried to repair a large hole in the road with rocks so we could take our vehicles to clean the cemetery and returned a few days later, he had removed all the rocks and dug the hole deeper. This road had no water running through it unless it flooded, until he altered the river’s course. Who do we need to contact? We appreciate any help.

    • There are a lot of things you can and cannot do when it comes to waterways. You would need to see if these people bothered to get a permit to change the flow.

      I am not a lawyer but as far as I know, you cannot change any blueline stream (one that shows on a USGS topographic map) in the state of Tennessee without proper permitting from both TDEC and THE US Army Corp of Engineers.

      Once it is done, I don’t know the ramifications. As for access, that falls into another category altogether. If you can show long-term access via a road or something, you may have a case for prescriptive rights (see here for more).

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