HomeBoundary QuestionsRIparian RIghtsRiparian Rights in Tennessee


Riparian Rights in Tennessee — 144 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).

        • Hi Timothy I contacted you some months back about a spring box that my neighbor and I share, I’ve found out that the water line from the spring box runs under my property. I have the right to tap into this line. The man from FL is going to remove the spring box and put another one up the hill to furnish his air bnbs which will put a very heavy burden on the spring water. Would calling the TDEC be beneficial to my neighbor and me to address this situation with them
          Thank you for your time

          • Honestly, this is delving into the realm of legal issues. Yes, TDEC may be useful, but it sounds like you may need to speak with an attorney.

    • 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.

    • Who is in charge of blue line streams . My back yard is getting washed out . It used to be flat straight across my yard not it’s 3-4 feet wide and 3-4 feet deep.

      • Define, “in charge.” If there is a blue line stream on your property, then it is typically “controlled” by the State Department of Environmental Conservation and/or the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. However, this “control” does not extend to preventing “natural” erosion of the stream bed/banks. If there has been a change in the stream’s channel, you may want to look upstream to see why. There may be legal repercussions for someone that may have redirected it. Of course, maybe someone filled in a natural streambed when your property was developed. Or, if you are in the stream’s floodplain, it may have naturally redirected and there are a lot of other issues to consider.

        This is a “depends” situation and would likely need more investigation. If you want to change the flow, you will need to seek permission from local/state/federal agencies.

  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.

      • Hello Timothy. Y name is Mark Eastridge and I’m at 602 forge creek circle. Mountain City Tenn
        There’s a spring box on the other side of my driveway and it was used for watering the cows back in the day,to my barn and now provides water for my home and to supply water to my neighbor down the hill, this man from FL bought property above us and wants to remove the spring box which will cause many issues. I’ve been tending to this box for almost 7 years keeping up with maintenance. What are my neighbor and my rights to protect the spring box
        Thank you for your time and consideration

        • This will entirely depend on whose land this lays upon as well as any documentation of rights to use. The complexity of this leads me to defer you to an attorney. Sorry.

  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.

        • Hello, I did what you suggested – I called the county road commission about the right of way – one person told me the right of way is 20 inches from the middle of the road. When I called back several months later they told me the road didn’t have a right of way. I can’t get anyone to confirm a right of way so that I can place my water utility line in the right of way….which leads me back to the neighbor who will not grant me permission to lay my water line on his property. His family would like to buy my property. Do I have any recourse with getting the water hooked up to my property? Can a citizen block another citizen from a public utility? Thank you.

          • You do not have the right to install/utilize another’s land without their permission (or a previously granted easement). If this is not a public road and not a right of way that you have legal access to use (including the installation of utilities), then I would guess the only recourse you may have would be to contact an attorney and see if you could get a judgment allowing you this use.

          • Thank you for answering this question as I believe this is exactly what will need to happen. I may not have explained this – my property is the only property on this entire two mile road that doesn’t have water utility hook up. This is a public road with 10 homes. The county road commission flips the answer every time I place a call with – yes, the road has a right of way to no, the road doesn’t have a right of way. This has been a pain and they have been doing this for years. The road my property is located on (including the other homes) is considered a county road. Do you believe I may I have good case to win the judgement – based on the circumstances would I stand a good chance to get that line placed if I took the neighbor to court?

  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.

      • Do you if there is a general setback requirement for building a structure next to a major creek. In Georgia it is 25′ from state waters and 50′ from a classified trout stream. Thanks

        • As far as I know, there isn’t a state-wide requirement. This is typically governed by each municipality. If, however, there is a state requirement, the locals should know it and be able to provide you with this information.
          If not, your next step would be to contact the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation.

    • 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).

  40. I hired an excavator wanting to widen my creek in Wilson county due to some flooding over the past few years. I never had any major erosion except for a small secondary stream made from my neighbors new driveway. It caused a ditch along side the creek on my property. And my other neighbors culvert pipe came out of his driveway and water started backing up pooking in my yard and couldn’t drain fast enough out of my culvert at the road. Well it was merely a request. I’m no professional. This excavator gouged my banks, pulled out many huge support rocks in the bed,drudged the creek,uncovered about 4 trees roots making them unstable, put all that trashy creek dirt in various parts of my yard killing my grass causing erosion and causing damage to the creek and killing all of its vegetation as well. My banks collapsed in some areas and filled up the creek. And my banks are mush and very unstable. I found out he NEVER went through state or local offices to obtain any permits. Stormwater told me he should have obtained an arap through the state. I’ve called the State and they don’t seem to interested. How do I get this guy turned in for his illegal activity and my damage reported?

    • Hate to say it, but this will likely be an issue for an attorney. If he is licensed, you may have recourse through the licensing agency. Again, you likely need to consult an attorney.

  41. Hello. I live on a public road like anyone else. But, another public road couple miles out is graveled and has a creek to cross. The new owner put a fence up in front of the creek. Now it is impassable due to the fence. Is this legal?

    • If it’s a public road, then no. If it is a private road, then maybe. If it is just an easement, probably. You cannot assume that a gravel road is public or even a private or joint use easement.

  42. I have a question about run off water from a cemetery, I leave close to a local cemetery and when it rains there is a large amount of run off water that runs off the hill of the cemetery and basically forms a small river that floods our yard as well as our neighbors yard, then runs into a nearby storm drain. I’m aware that coffins are put in a sealed concrete vault, but with concrete being porous there is still water that is able to get in and out of the vault, not to mention the chemicals involved with preservation of bodies and metals that one might have in or on their body when place into the vault. So with that being said how is it that we have to catch the run off water from a land field but we allow run off from a cemetery to go into a storm drain in the state of Tennessee and onto residential lands without any form of a catchment area to stop it fropm getting into public drinking water.

    • I am not an environmental engineer nor am I with the government (of any variety). However, runoff from a cemetery versus runoff from a landfill is completely different. A landfill has surface contaminants that have to be prevented. Even when the waste is covered with a layer of topsoil, it isn’t nearly as deep as that of a cemetery (like one or two feet vs 6ish feet). Next, cemeteries are typically undisturbed land with relatively small holes in them. Then, as you mentioned, there are caskets AND concrete vaults. I would suspect there is a risk of embalming fluid leaching into the surrounding soils, but I would hazard a guess that it would be nominal at best.

      Landfills have LOTS AND LOTS of contaminates AND are typically ALL disturbed land. To prevent groundwater contamination, many must go as far as lining the bottom of the fill area with a non-permeable layer.

      But what you began complaining about was surface runoff. This has absolutely nothing to do with body decomposition or embalming. The biggest contaminant I could see from a cemetery for surface runoff would be from fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. But this would be much less than what you would get from a golf course or farm.

      The river you allude to isn’t about contaminants, it is about how the water flows into your land. My guess is that the cemetery is relatively unchanged and has minimal nonpermeable surfaces (this assumes a smaller, local cemetery and not a huge commercial one with lots of roads and whatnot). In fact, I would hazard a guess that a cemetery would reduce the amount of runoff versus a residential area. But more to the point, the water flow onto your property is likely the same as it was 10, 20, or even 50 years ago. It is far more likely that your land and that of the neighbors have changed the flow of water more than a cemetery would. It is also likely that this condition existed well before your purchase of the property or construction on it. While it is not nice to have water dumped onto your land from adjoining lands, if the flow is “natural” it is hard to point a finger and say they need to “fix” it.

      My suggestion is to figure out why the water makes such a mess on your land and see if you can figure out how to re-route it to make it less messy. Just remember, any change you make that affects people downstream may become your problem.

  43. Neighbor has moved their dock right in front of our property on Cherokee lake. He claims it’s TVA shoreline and they have an easement to the water. Their property is next to ours. I looked it up and it’s actually zone 1 which means NON-TVA shoreline. Does our neighbor have the right to move his boat dock right in front of our property on the shore?

    • To understand Cherokee and Douglas Lakes, one must understand how they came to be. When the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) acquired the land (much by eminent domain), they “bought” all of the farms they needed (generally speaking). Then they surveyed the land, determined the height of the dams, and established flowage easements for the waters. This was set at 1075/1080 for Cherokee and 1002/1007 for Douglas. TVA then “gave” back much of the land to the original farmers with the flowage easements in place.

      As the land below the 1075/1002 was unusable due to the easements, developers and surveyors often only deeded land to the 1075/1002 contours. This practice when on for decades until a relatively recent event happened. An enterprising person traced down heirs to the lands that had gone unsold (below 1075/1002) and purchased this “useless” land from them. This person then proceeded to sue lakefront landowners who had docks for trespass. Given the situation, TVA changed its dock permitting policy and now require a landowner to either show ownership or “rights” to use the land below the 1075/1002 contours to get a dock permit.

      As for trespass… The water that resides within the reservoirs of Cherokee and Douglas lakes is TVA “property” (or waters of the State). A body can do whatever the authority allows on said waters. So, I can take my pontoon boat all they way up a cove, well into private lands, as long as I stay on the water. Once I set foot on land (wet or dry), I am trespassing on whoever’s land I am on. As for your situation, I don’t know. I believe a doc permit specifies its location. Also, if the dock in question is not anchored or touching your land at all, I don’t know your legal recourse, trespass-wise. This will likely require a legal interpretation but one that could likely be gotten from TVA.

      Now, if you or your neighbor do not own the land below the lake and it is not owned by TVA, then you may want to take this up with the landowner. Or, better yet, buy all the “flooded” land adjacent to you (and to your neighbor’s land) and take control of the whole situation.

      • That is the important part- whether the dock permit specifies its location. The neighbor’s dock, which they don’t have a permit for, is anchored on our shoreline.

  44. Three riparian proprietors on lake each owning lake bed for wharfing out to navigable waters. Two of the three allowed by TVA to point docks over the third land owner lake bottom, instead of following over their lake bottom.
    TWRA comes along declaring third owner’s land as navigable waters stripping the riparian rights of use as now third owner unable to exercise riparian rights to park any vessel or floating dock or fixed dock as reasonable use laws dictate. TVA & TWRA are they required to acknowledge Riparian Rights of third land owner, they only chorus in unison , LET IT BE. Riparian rights attach to the land and as I understand them time is not a factor in the application of how long the incursions have taken place.

    • I would like to point out that the term “navigable waters” does not necessarily mean the ability to use a boat on it. (Read this for some points on it)
      If I understand this, you are claiming that landowners 1 and 2 are encroaching on landowner 3’s ability to enjoy their land. Furthermore, you are claiming that TWRA and TVA have declared the waters adjacent to #3 as “navigable” and that they cannot construct a dock.

      Assuming all of this is correct, I would say that Landowner #3 may want to retain a lawyer. Changing the land status and its subsequent value may constitute a “Taking” and therefore require court action.

  45. We have 191 feet of lake front on Cherokee lake. The shoreline is considered zone 1 which is NON-TVA shoreline. Our neighbor has moved their dock right in front of our property. Am I able to tell them to move the dock back in front of their property?

  46. Hello and thank you for such an informative thread! I own 30 acres on the Ocoee River. The prior owners had dug out a place for a pond in the back pasture but had never gotten around to filling it. We now have horses in the field that would love for the pond to exist but it would take months to fill it with a hose from our well. Is there any problem with me using a large water pump and fire hose to pull water from the river into the pond? Once full I believe we can maintain the water level with rain and our well. Just trying to get it initially filled would go much faster by using the river that is right there.

    • This might fall into the “don’t ask, don’t tell” category. The old adage, “better to ask for forgiveness than permission,” may also apply.

      Seriously though, most of the state laws exempt agricultural use from various permits and oversite. The most likely issue I can see arising is causing a decline of water downstream. Provided you don’t short your neighbors, you are likely not going to be reported. If you are not muddying up the waters and haven’t starved flora and fauna of what they need, you may be fine. There are a lot of pump systems that may work, but if you can get a flow from the stream to the pond with a means to take the overflow back to the stream, you may not have to use well water at all.

      As I don’t know the topography and what it involved, this may be a moot point altogether. Just remember, EVERYTHING you are doing in regards to this is for AGRICULTURAL purposes and absolutely none of it is for financial benefit. You trying to provide the most natural water source you can for your livestock. NEVER EVER try to use cost as a reason. Talk about decreasing the potable water table or keeping the livestock chemical free or preserving the natural environment. Just not that it would save you money.

  47. My neighbor plans to put a couple of ponds next to my field. He is starting work right beside the fence and road. The fence is the property line between the fields built by survey markers. The roadbed sits 6 feet above the field where he is working. How close can he get to either one? I don’t want my fence to fall in his pond nor do I want my car to fall in if the roadbed becomes unstable.

    • As far as I know, your neighbor (as do you) has the right to use ALL of their land. However, their rights end at the boundary, and as such, do not have the right to harm lands outside of their boundary. If they are undercutting a county-approved road, there may be public safety issues. If their ponds degrade the fence, you may have legal avenues to get them repaired. If their construction pollutes the waters below them, they may be subject to fines. But until something like this happens, they should be able to use all they own.

      If you are concerned any of the above is likely to happen, contact the local environmental conservation office or the road department to see if THEY have a dog in that fight.

  48. A large development was constructed sort of behind a hill, upstream from our home. Since we moved to this location 7 years ago in Madison, TN the creek had never stopped flowing, Not during the longest droughts of summer or during the winter. There were small fish in this creek so I know it’s been a stable water source “forever”. Since this development, our steam has run dry. I believe the blasting required to create flat land for 100s of units of housing, changed the water flow from this mountain, or possibly the blasting destroyed natural water flow. Is this legal? There is so much nature that depends on this creek which is now dry.

    • I cannot say if it is legal or not, but I can agree that it isn’t moral.
      You should reach out to the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation and file a formal complaint.

  49. I have 27 acres along a small river (where my property line goes halfway into the river), and along the bank of my land, I’d like to set up a small, water turbine to produce electricity for my future residence…It’s designed to be environmentally safe for aquatic life. Are there any laws, restrictions or permitting that I should be aware of or can read up on?

    Thank you in advance.


    • As I am not an attorney nor an engineer, I cannot possibly answer that one. I would direct someone to either reach out (anonymously) to the Dept. of Conservation and/or the engineering department (for TN it may be the US Army Corp of Engineers) for insight.
      If you have a manufacturer wanting to sell you this product, ask them; they should have researched. Just follow up. Do not trust someone who stands to make money off the deal to provide honest, accurate information.
      You can also live by the adage, “its easier to ask for forgiveness than to seek permission.”

  50. Years ago, we sold our city in West TN some land to put in a water treatment center. We still hold most of the surrounding land near the treatment center. Recently, they approached us about a temporary construction easement as well as an easement to put another well/pump on our adjacent property. They further admitted having already placed a well/pump on our property that has been pumping our water for years but could not locate an easement agreement (there is none, so inverse condemnation) and wanted us to just agree it was no big deal for zero consideration. Do riparian water rights play any role in the valuation of the taking and trying to work out fair market value before having to go to court? We see it as the city according to their budget has been making $2 million in water sales a year, and half of the wells are on our land, some not lawfully. What about the possibility of leasing the land to them for so much a month for so many years? We’re looking at it as the city has already made and will continue to make a lot of money off the water being pumped off our land, so shouldn’t that be taken into account, or are we looking at this incorrectly?

    • Tennessee isn’t as big on “water rights” as the States out West. I am not certain if there are specific rules regarding subterranean water usage. This is definitely a situation where you need legal advice.

  51. We have purchased a large amount of acreage along the Sequatchie River, which was a significant deciding factor in making that purchase. Now, as I learn more about the area, I’m concerned about the extent to which we have rights as landowners along the river. I understand people have floated down the river for years, fished, etc. Few landowners cared, because they were all absent or used the land for agricultural purposes, and more importantly it was never that many people. Today, the area is growing rapidly, and there is a concerted effort to encourage tourism by developers, nature groups, and local governments. To what degree can we (all landowners along the Sequatchie River), prevent thousands of people from eventually making our property boundary a playground? I’d like to understand the limits of the public’s right to the use of the river, river bank, noise, pollution, firearms, fireworks, pets, fishing, trespassing, ATV’s, etc. I want to have realistic expectations about our landowner rights, and the ability to address concerns with strangers with some authority. I’d be very interested in a landowner advocacy group (much as I hate that sort of thing) – particularly because I don’t think our interests are being represented in discussions about increasing tourism on the river. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

    • My undergraduate work was done in Missouri and that’s were I have the most knowledge to this question. For example, in Arkansas, if a waterway is deemed navigable and for this purpose, navigable is determined by its ability to sustain commerce, then the waters and the riverbed are “public domain” ish. Essentially, the state declared a lot of the rivers this so that the counties could excavate river gravel for road construction/maintenance.

      I have also been told that all water that falls in the state is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation and are, “waters of the state.” If this is the case, and if the same rules apply to these waters as does the lakes (TVA controlled), then someone can be on the water and not be subject to trespass. Once they leave the water (either on the bank or step on the river bed), they may be subject to trespass. However, it the local powers that be are wanting to promote tourism, etc, then you may find enforcement of trespass difficult.

      Below is a link to the US Army Corp of Engineers (the controlling agency in a lot of this) that shows what is considered navigable. Depending on where you are along the river, you may be in a navigable section. In the end, you will likely need legal advice on what you can and cannot do.


  52. I have a runoff creek on the side of a mountain that is dry most of the time. Can i place a dam on that creek to create a small pond/pool?

    • Legally? I don’t know. I know that, in Tennessee, agricultural uses are typically exempt from TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation) oversite in Tennessee. I also believe that drains are not necessarily controlled either by TDEC or the US Army Corp of Engineers unless they are what is considered a “blue line” stream. That’s a stream that shows up on the USGS quadrangle maps as a blue line.

      I’ll also say there is an old adage, “better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

  53. I own a 75 acres farm with a blue line stream that divides it through an open swampy field. The steam dries up for a couple months each year. There’s no fish and you can’t float it in a boat for the trees and beaver dams. The entire length of stream across several properties is a similar condition.

    Neighbor wants to claim steam as access to basically duck hunt my farm with the assumption if they stay in the creek I can’t stop him.

    I don’t duck hunt but I do deer hunt the open swamp.

    Where can I find my rights as the land owner?

    Secondly what are the laws concerning modifying blue line creek when it’s complete void of water for several months out of the year?

    • I am checking into the use of the stream to access your lands. I am curious though, if someone is floating into your lands on a creek to duck hunt, how are they retrieving the downed fowl without trespassing? I am aware that TWRA does have some regulations to allow a hunter to access private lands to retrieve game that “fled” onto it after being shot. However, you don’t shoot a duck on the water and as far as I know, you have “control” of the airspace above your land (I think up to where “normal” air traffic travels). This would mean that any ducks shot would be in your airspace. Also, wetlands are “land”. Soggy land, but land nonetheless. They may have other factors governing their access. Be careful on this last part. If an area is deemed as a wetlands, it has other protections that may supersede your rights as a landowner.

      It may be possible to put up a fence and a water gate across the intermittent stream. The neighbor would then have to damage your fence to access your farm, potentially incurring a criminal charge.
      All of this, though, falls into the realm of legal issues and really needs the advise of an attorney or the municipality’s attorney.

      As for modifications… All water, above or below the ground, may be classified as waters of the state. To make modifications to its structural “support”, you may be required to obtain an Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit (ARAP). This is through the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC). Depending on what you are doing, you may also be required to gain a permit from the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACOE).

  54. Our neighborhood was was created in 1950s and is on Watts Bar Lake. The original plat shows the houses across the street has a 30ft strip of land for lake access that is deeded to them as Further, also conveyed as appurtenance to lot 15 is the right of ingress to and egress from the waters of Watts Bar Lake over and upon the adjoining land lying between the 750 contour elevations and the waters of the lake.
    This grantor owned both a lakefront lot 6 and lot 15 across the street that includes the 30ft access lot. He sold lot 15 in 2002 that includes the 30ft in their deed. Then later that year the county approved the splitting of lot 6 and combined just the 30ft access from a plat that was done in 12/03/2001 and revised to show map vicinity 04/22/2002 (after the sale of lot 15)There is a new survey and became the new approved plat for lot 6 A& B 2003 lot 6a &b were sold but no mention of the 30ft access being combined in the deed.
    Lot 6 b is vacant land and the owner never maintained lot b. The owner of lot 15 had no idea of the transfer and has maintained the entire lot 6b since 2002 because they also own lot 5 and didn’t want snakes In the overgrown lake lot The owner never mowed the lot and and barely maintained lot 6a with the house on it. How can this have happen? Not until lot 6b was just was listed for sale did we (owner of lot 15 ) notice this. The county cain’t explain how this happened and wasn’t caught. These access lots do not cross over any property owners land. The plat shows the line attaching the two.
    Trying to see who paid the taxes on the strip. I can go back to 2000 and lot 6 land value never changed and lot 15 never decreased. Although, the 30ft is now 1/3 of the lot for 6b.
    I’m guessing the taxes were included in the lot 15. Other owners that sold the access strip by quit claim deed have a separate tax bill. The county had the 30 ft listed as parcel 7 but since it’s been removed I cain’t research it. I have pulled every deed for both lots. I know this is a ton of information. The attorney said if you can contact a mapper/surveyor that is familiar with the old plats. After contacting the county because I owner of lot 6a just became aware that my septic fields are on lot 6 b. and do not have enough room for a septic repair. The owner applied for a variance in 2002 to split the lot and allowed a lot of .60 to be split and combined with the 30 ft to make one lot .36 and one .32. There was opposition from the neighbors. The county approved the variance due to the wording in the county guidelines saying the lots should be no less than 20,000 sf.
    The two days after the approval the county sent a letter saying Mr. Blansette has decided to put the lot back the way it was intended as one lot 6. but will need to record a new survey. Apparently this was never done. I’m guessing they realized the deed did not include the 30ft. We brought all of this to the zoning officer and he knows it should have never been approved. It’s a huge mess. We are trying to see if there happened to be survey to put the lot back and who actually paid the taxes. I have spoke to trustees, mapping, and tax assessor and I can see that the lot was put back together for tax purposes in 2003 after the purchase. The lot lines were removed and were separate until 2018 when we purchased lot 6a
    Do you have any suggestions? Not looking for legal advice, just trying to get as much information to see if myself and the owner of lot 15 have enough documentation to go further.

    • First, taxes don’t establish much. The tax assessor just ensures everything is taxed, not necessarily who “owns” it. As far as I know, paying taxes doesn’t establish adverse possession or prescriptive title. But that is a legal question.
      As for mapping, you can go to the register of deeds and get a copy of each plat of record. If a survey was done but not recorded, you would need to get that from the surveyor or the person who got it done. Now, PLATS DO NOT CONVEY LAND. While they may establish a bit of “clout” when trying to file for adverse possession, they themselves do not convey land. There must be deeds to transfer. If someone had a deed for the strip of land, then they technically should still own it if they didn’t transfer it.
      If, as is common, the developer made that strip and then never transferred it (or dedicated all remaining lands to the HOA), then they, or their heirs still own it. It may be encumbered with an easement, but they would likely still own it, fee simple.
      I suggest getting a copy of each map and then follow the deeds back to pre-development. You can then come back forward (through index books) to see if there were any other transfers that didn’t fall into the chain of title. Essentially, you are looking to construct an abstract for the lands in question. What you are trying to accomplish is to build a case. You need to find ALL evidence, not just that evidence that supports you.

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