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A review of the rules when it comes to our interactions with the Great Lakes

Beachgoers on a Lake Michigan beach in the Upper Peninsula.
Joseph Novak
Creative Commons

So you want to stroll along a Great Lakes beach. Can a cottage-owner come shoo you away?

Today we looked at the water rules in the Great Lakes State.

Wayne State Law Professor Noah Hall is an expert on what the statutes say, which often diverges from legends and second-hand stories.

Hall says the most important rule for the use of the Great Lakes comes from Michigan's history as part of the Northwest Territories.

"The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established that the Great Lakes and their connecting waterways would forever be free and open to the public," says Hall. "So from day one, really before day one – before our constitutional government was even formed – the Northwest Ordinance made clear that this notion that we now call 'the public trust' doctrine would apply to Great Lakes waters – keep them open and free. Nobody can own the Great Lakes. No government can even sell the Great Lakes. They're a public trust for all of us."

Hall says the original rules around water in Michigan were very protective. He said rules used to say that you couldn't disturb the natural flow of a water's course, but the Industrial Revolution came along and the "natural flow" rule gave way to the "reasonable use" rule.

Listen to our conversation with Hall above.

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