by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law
EMINENT DOMAIN; NAVIGABLE WATERS; ACCRETION: The state owns all land below the water of a navigable lake or stream and whether the accretion of dry land that formerly was riverbed along a navigable river and tidelands belongs to the state or an adjoining upland property owner depends on whether the accretion was natural, in which case the private landowner owns it, or was artificial, in which case the state owns it. State Ex Rel. State Lands Commission v. Superior Court, 900 P.2d 648 (Cal. 1995).
The court reaffirmed California's longstanding "artificial accretion rule" providing that as between a state and private upland owners, the land along tidelands and navigable rivers that accrete by artificial means, such as local dredging and construction of wing dams and levees, remains in state ownership. However, the court held that what constitutes artificial accretion should be narrowly construed and concluded that accretion is artificial if directly caused by human activities in the immediate vicinity of the accreted lands. What constitutes immediate vicinity is to be decided on a case by case basis. Accretion is not artificial merely because human activities far away or long ago contributed to the accretion. In another part of the case, the court held that applying the artificial accretion rule, does not involve an unconstitutional taking of private property requiring compensation.
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