There is a long history in the state of Washington that determines whether or not your particular waterfront property owns its beach out front, especially important on Puget Sound properties with their tidal ranges that can expose large tracts of beach at low tide. Who owns that land? You? The state? It depends.

The answer can be determined through a title search and a correct parcel map. There are properties throughout the Seattle region that fit into both categories: owning the beach, or not. The actual day to day usage of a beach in front of a waterfront property is frankly usually exactly the same whether the beach is owned or not: people without ownership still expect their beach to be quiet and well taken care of by strolling beach walkers, and most people with owned land let beach walkers go through their beach since the courtesy gets reciprocated and it allows the entire community to enjoy waterfront strolls. There are some famous exceptions, including people trying to (illegally) put fences up that become submerged at high tide, but they tend to be in remoter regions and you don’t see that around Seattle.

The Department of Natural Resources provides an informative guide to “Boundaries of State-owned Aquatic Lands” that explains many of these concepts, terms, and related waterfront property rights history. Here’s an excerpt from it:

“Fresh water, such as in lakes or rivers, or marine waters, such as in Puget Sound, are not owned by individuals. Water is managed by the state and protected for the common good. Generally, aquatic lands beneath these waters have been managed that way, too – since statehood.

On November 11, 1889, at statehood, Washington’s aquatic lands became stateowned lands under the Equal Footing Doctrine, which guaranteed new states of the Union the same rights as the original 13. Washington State, through Article XVII of its constitution, asserted ownership to the “beds and shores of all navigable waters in the state…” so that no one could monopolize the major means of transportation, trade or fishing areas. Some other states gave adjacent upland owners a “riparian” right to build over navigable waters, but Washington chose to be a “nonriparian” state – that is, it did not grant that right. It held that aquatic lands are owned by all the people of the state, not individuals.

Although owners of lands abutting stateowned aquatic lands did not receive “riparian” rights at statehood, for more than 80 years they could purchase tidelands or shorelands from the state. In 1971, the sale of the state’s aquatic lands was stopped by the state Legislature. Today, virtually all the bedlands of navigable waters are state owned, as are 30 percent of the tidelands and 75 percent of shorelands in the state. Nonnavigable bodies of water are not owned by the state, and are likely to be connected in title to the abutting upland property.”

Burien Three Tree Point waterfront real estate with Seattle area Puget Sound owned beachfront

Click picture to see this local Three Tree Point waterfront home that owns its 130′ beach

Comment Feed

4 Responses

  1. Tom LandrethAugust 26, 2016 @ 10:44 pm

    Washington State Constitution asserts its ownership of all navigable water in the state of Washington. One must assume that means all lakes. How, then does Lake Quinault become owned by the Quinault Indian Tribe?
    The claim of ownership of Lake Quinault and the bedland has denied every non Quinault Tribal person the civil rights given to us in the Constitution. The full use and enjoyment of our private property was and continues to be restricted by the Quinault Indian Tribe/Nation.
    April of 2013, the Quinault Indian Tribe/Nation Business Committee voted to close Lake Quinault to all people for all recreational activities. This included, fishing, boating, swimming, etc. due to reported pollution caused by seeping septic systems on the north shore of the lake. To enforce the ownership claim, the Quinault Tribal Police provided armed police patrols to enforce the closure. Removal of all docks and intursions into the lake were to be removed prior to December of 2013 or we will face legal action and possible forced removal of docks etc.
    A small group of private landowners have filed suit in federal and state court to have the Quinault Indian Tribe/Nation appear in court with the documents giving the Quinault Tribe the claimed ownership. The Quinault Tribe/Nation claimed immunity and did not provide any answers to the question of ownership of Lake Quinault.
    Newspaper articles by the Quinault Tribe/Nation have claimed the treaty and executive order establishing the Quinault Reservation gives them ownership of the lake. (no mention of water in either document)
    The Question of ownership of Lake Quinault, a navigable water of the United States and the State of Washington, has not been determined.
    Anyone interested in the answer should look up: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, The four treaties signed with Great Britain in 1815, 1818, 1927, and 1846. These treaties were signed prior to the Indian Treaties signed during the Indian Wars.
    Check out “Washington Territory Statutes, 1854. Every Treaty deals with navigation and all navigable water is to remain open and free to all.
    Lake Quinault was meander surveyed in 1892, 3 years after statehood. Washington State Department of Natural Resources maps indicate the Quinault River, upper, lower and Lake Quinault are navigable.
    The Quinault Indian Reservation survey was completed in 1902 by George Campbell. The Quinault Indian Reservation was opened for allotments to all Quinault, Hoh, Quaitso, and Quileute Indians. All land not alloted to the above named tribes was purchased by the Federal Government and sold to members of the other fisheating tribes in the southwest of Washington. All lands not sold to the other tribes was opened for sale to all the settlers.
    A bill submitted to Congress in 1938, requesting the purchase of Lake Quinault for the benefit of the Quinault Indian Tribe. Bill did not receive any action and died.
    The Quinault Indian Reservation is not owned by the Quinault Indian Tribe. They do not have exclusive jurisdiction over the reservation lands.
    Information for validation is available over the Internet. Check out the Act of March 4, 1911.
    The Quinault Indian Reservation has public roads and highways running across the land, since a navigable water is considered a common highway, the same is true. Public Law 280 provides the State of Washington has jurisdiction over non tribal people on public roads.
    Is the State of Washington allowing the Quinault Indian Tribe/Nation to monopolize Lake Quinault?

  2. Guy BoudiaOctober 1, 2016 @ 2:33 pm

    There is a clear documented answer to the question of the Quinault tribe owning Lake Quinault
    The Quinault tribe was not given the lake in the Treaty or President Grant’s Executive Order. Only Acres of land., or tracts of Country.
    Quinault Lake was never given to the Quinault tribe by Congress by an express conveyance or in writing required by the Supreme Court.
    The Supreme Court requires an Indian tribe before claiming interest in property or a waterway they must bring before the court a title or a deed given by the Treaty.
    If an Indian tribe ceded lands in the Treaty they have no interest in those lands or waterways from that day forward.
    The state of Washington in a March hearing answered a judge question as to what was the navigability of lake Quinault. Answer from state attorney, lake Quinault is a navigable waterway. Thus the state claiming ownership and responsibilities from this point on. Witnesses in the courtroom and the attorneys on both sides heard this response from the state.
    The BIA website states tribes cannot own Federal Trust Land and the tribes are dependants of the U.S. Government.
    There is one conclusive document that proves there is no ambiguity about the ownership of Lake Quinault. In 1939 the Quinault tribe had attorneys prepare A Bill to present to Congress. The Quinault tribe wanted Congress to purchase Lake Quinault, a lake in the state of Washington, and have the state of Washington cede this lake to the Quinault tribe with a title of ownership. The Bill also wanted Congress to purchase all the surrounding land of Lake Quinault for the Quinault tribe for their control of recreational purposes.
    This Bill to Congress was rejected by both Houses and never considered to the floor of each House of Congress. Since the Bill was rejected and refused the Bill was destroyed. There is no record of this Bill in the Law Library of Congress but it does exist on the Internet and I was able to download it. The Bill has been sent to all parties of the lawsuit and have knowledge of it’s existence
    Why did the Quinault tribe ask Congress to buy the lake and the land for them?
    Because the Quinault tribe has never owned the lake because it wasn’t in the reservation boundary.
    Anyone can go to WSU library and look up Quinault reservation map and WSU has the 1911 allotment map of the reservation which does not include lake Quinault.

  3. Cassie RidgewayMay 7, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

    Triballands are not subject to the same laws of state as other properties. Tribal lands are sovereign state or nation. They have there own laws! I don’t understand why people dont understand this!

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