Public Rights in Maine Waters

G. Graham Waite, The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law


Throughout the part of the United States that is not arid, occupancy of land bordering a stream, lake, or ocean carries with it certain rights to use the water. These are property rights of the shoreland occupant, hence are sometimes called private rights to use water found in a watercourse. When the watercourse is navigable the private rights take a back seat to rights the public have to use the water. The statement immediately raises questions. What is the test of navigability? Who is included within the term "public"? What rights do the public have? What remedies are available to vindicate the public rights? Who may invoke the remedies? To what extent do the public rights subordinate private rights? In Maine the answers to these and other questions of public rights in water are controlled by the interplay of state, federal and international law. The interplay is examined in the pages that follow; also, suggestions are offered to improve the quality of public rights which, it is believed, will enrich recreational opportunities in Maine.