Group Fights To Restore Water Access Rights Of Property Owners On Wisconsin Flowages

Jan 14, 2020

Credit State Bar of Wisconsin

In 2018, the state Supreme Court quietly made a decision that could affect tens of thousands of people who own property on flowages in Wisconsin.

The decision could stop many of them from putting in piers or even accessing the water, but an advocacy group wants a new law to change that.

Two years ago, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Price County man.

It said he could block his neighbor, who happened to be his sister, from putting in a pier, since he owned the ground underneath the flowage in front of the sister’s property.

The court’s decision surprised Tom Larson, the Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs at the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

“The Supreme Court…overturned 140 years of case law, which had said that if you are a riparian owner, meaning you own waterfront property, you are presumed to have what’s called riparian rights, which is the right to be able to access the water and to be able to place a pier that touches on the bed of a  waterway,” Larson said.

The Supreme Court’s decision threw into question the rights of waterfront property owners on Wisconsin’s 260-plus flowages.

“As a result, we have thousands of waterfront property owners that have had piers that now are prohibited from keeping those piers in the flowages,” Larson said.

Now, the Realtors Association is strongly supporting a bill that would reverse court action.

It would ensure waterfront property owners always have the right to access the water and put in piers, no matter who owns the flowage bed underneath.

“We wanted to make the rights of all waterfront property owners, including those that have property  adjacent to a flowage, protected in the statutes,” Larson said.

The bill is up for a public hearing on Thursday.

Its supporters include senators from Janet Bewley (D-Delta) on the left to Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) on the right.