NAVIGABLE WATERS

NAVIGABLE WATERS

NAVIGABLE WATERS

NAVIGABLE WATERS

Waters that provide a channel for commerce and transportation of people and goods.
Under U.S. law, bodies of water are distinguished according to their use. The distinction is
particularly important in the case of so-called navigable waters, which are used for business or transportation. Jurisdiction over navigable waters belongs to the federal government rather than states or municipalities. The federal gov-
ernment can determine how the waters are used,
by whom, and under what conditions. It also has
the power to alter the waters, such as by dredg-
ing or building dams.Generally a state or private
property owner who is inconvenienced by such
work has no remedy against the federal govern-
ment unless state or private property itself is
taken; if such property is taken, the laws of EMI-
NENT DOMAIN would apply, which may lead to
compensation for the landowner.
The basis for federal jurisdiction over navi-
gable waters lies in the U.S. Constitution. Since
the early nineteenth century, the U.S. Supreme
Court has held that the COMMERCE CLAUSE
(Article 1, Section 8) gives the federal govern-
ment extensive authority to regulate interstate
commerce. This view originated in 1824 in the
landmark case of GIBBONS V. OGDEN, 22 U.S. (9
Wheat.) 1, 6 L. Ed. 23. In Gibbons, the Court was
faced with deciding whether to give precedence
to a state or federal law for the licensing of ves-
sels. It ruled that navigation of vessels in and out
of the ports of the nation is a form of interstate
commerce and thus federal law must take prece-
dence. This decision led to the contemporary
exercise of broad federal power over navigable
waters, and in countless other areas of interstate
commerce.
In practical terms federal regulation of navi-
gable waters takes many forms. One area of this
regulation covers matters of transportation and
commerce: for example, rules governing the
licensing of ships and the dumping of waste. A
second area applies to the alteration of the navi-
gable waters, which is strictly controlled by
federal law. The Rivers and Harbors Appropria-
tion Act of 1899 forbids building any unautho-
rized obstruction to the nation’s navigable
waters and gives enforcement powers to the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers. A third area of regu-
lation involves WORKERS’ COMPENSATION
claims. The concept of navigable waters is
important in claims made under the Longshore

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