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Rules around using Michigan's rivers based on logging history

Flickr user Justin Leonard

Water is one of Michigan's most abundant and precious resources, but the rules for governing its use aren't always clear.

Wayne State Law Professor and water law specialist Noah Hall joins us to discuss the rules surrounding the use of creeks and rivers. 

Like the Great Lakes, creeks and rivers are often governed by the concept of fair use.

"If you own property along the river you have a right to use the water; you don't own the river water itself, and that right is reasonable based on circumstances and your neighbor’s needs," Hall says.

According to Hall, the most basic rule for rivers comes from Michigan's history of logging. As rivers were used to transport timber to Lake Michigan, the log flotation test was created.

"If the waterway is capable of floating a log, generally speaking, it is open to the public to use the waterway for boating, fishing, recreation, and navigation," Hall says. 

If you come across an obstruction in the river or creek, Hall also notes you are free to walk on the riverbank in order to pass it, but "stay as close to the water as possible, make your portage, and get back in the water."

The biggest gray area for our use of rivers, Hall says, is how to balance utilizing our waterways to grow our economy while also protecting them.

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