Who Actually Owns the Lakes in Minnesota?
I spent the weekend up in the Battle Lake area, and as I was driving down the Otter Tail Scenic Byway, the question of "who owns the lakes" popped into my head.
There are 11,842 lakes in our great state, but who really owns them? We can't parcel off chunks of water like we do for land, so how does lake ownership work?
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a page of their website that goes into detail about lake ownership. According to that Water Law Basics page, there are things called riparian rights:
Riparian rights are property rights arising from owning shoreland. They include the right to wharf out to a navigable depth; to take water for domestic and agricultural purposes; to use land added by accretion or exposed by reliction; to take ice; to fish, boat, hunt, swim; to such other uses as water bodies are normally put.
The DNR then goes onto explain that riparian rights come with duties as well. It's the duty of those with the rights to use them reasonably, so they don't interfere with the riparian rights of others. These riparian rights are the rights of the public at when the body of water has public access like a public road that runs alongside the water, or at a public access.
So technically no one owns the lakes, but we have rights to them. It reminds me of someone my high school science teacher always told us, "we are borrowing this Earth from our grandkids, so we better take care of it." Check out more on water laws here.
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