Surveyors are critically important to riparian and littoral rights in North Carolina because they determine the boundaries on the navigable waters of our State and help resolve disputes between neighboring landowners. Surveyors are expected to be familiar with local and state laws and regulations related to riparian and littoral rights to provide accurate and reliable surveys for landowners by the water. 

The location of the waterward boundary of riparian land is important because the owners of riparian property enjoy certain “riparian rights” not enjoyed by “inland” property owners. Five of the most common riparian rights are 

  • The right to be and remain a riparian or littoral property owner and to enjoy the natural advantages granted upon the land by its adjacency to the water 
  • The right of access to the water
  • The right to build a pier or “wharf out” the adjacent water, subject to state regulations
  • The right to accretions the adjacent water brings to the land
  • The right to make reasonable use of the water flowing past the land

What a Mean High Water Mark (MHWM) Means for Riparian Land Owners

Whether a property has riparian rights depends on whether the property’s waterward boundary touches the Mean High Water Mark (MHWM).The Mean High Water Mark is the waterward boundary of all properties that abut or touch the navigable waters of this State.  The MHWM is the mean high tidal elevation of sea level over the course of a complete 18.6-year lunar cycle. The MHWM location changes over time.  Thus, the waterward boundary of riparian property changes. The State of  North Carolina owns the lands below the MHWM. When the MHWM moves landward due to rising sea level, the riparian owner loses title to that land and it becomes owned by the State. However, rapid avulsion does not change the boundary. 

Surveyors and Their Impact on North Carolinian Land Ownership

Disputes over the location of the MHWM often arise between owners of property located near the water, because the MHWM location determines who owns the riparian rights that go with the property that touches the MHWM.  Land surveyors who locate the MHWM and associated building setbacks are instrumental in determining and protecting riparian land ownership in North Carolina. As the MHWM locations changes, so does the boundary of the riparian land.  Even if a dispute over the location of the MHWM is a matter of inches, the difference can result in a radical change in who owns riparian rights.  Such a difference can  significantly impact the abilities of landowners to do what they would like with property they believe to be theirs. Consequently, landowners must understand their property lines.   Surveyors are critical to that understanding. 

Contact Rountree Losee Today

If you’re unfamiliar with the regulations and laws surrounding riparian and littoral rights, making decisions about your property as a landowner can be challenging. Additionally, if you’re a surveyor, it’s important that you accurately record and measure property so that it remains or gets passed along to the rightful owner. For assistance with issues related to riparian and littoral rights, contact Rountree Losee via our website or call (910) 763-3404.