Water Rights with Shared Lake in Illinois

Two of the properties we currently have up for auction each have a shared lake, so the question of water rights has come up as a main topic of discussion.  I have done some research and have had some conversations with different authorities and I can say water rights get complicated.  For the purposes of this blog we are talking about a shared private lake, not a public lake or moving body of water such as a stream or river.

I have been selling real estate for over 20 years in the State of Illinois with a strong primary focus on rural properties such as land and homes in the country.   When I first started it was common knowledge that if you could get a boat in the water and not touch the bottom that you could go anywhere in the water to fish, even crossing your neighbor’s property line to do so, and it was not considered trespassing.

I remember a while back hearing that the law changed, so I went to do research on what I could find. What I found was very confusing, so I gave the Department of Natural Resources a call and it was an enlightening conversation.

The IDNR told me that the law did not change but the interpretation of the law changed.  It was correct that they used to consider it okay to travel the lake and fish where you wanted to if your boat was not touching bottom, as bottoms float.   The way I understand it, there was a change of position in Springfield and the people in charge said this law had been misinterpreted for years.  Now, the Department of Natural Resources will enforce the property lines even in lakes when it comes to fishing.  Granted, it would be great if all parties joining the lake could get along and come to an agreement, but if someone wants to enforce the property lines they will.

Some lakes that have multiple owners might have recorded restrictive covenants that do allow for more parties to use the lake.  Sometimes those have an expiration date on them, so reading the entire agreement is important.

When it really comes down to it, I am not an attorney and if you have any legal questions you should consult an attorney.  An attorney very well could have a different perspective or knowledge.  At the time of talking to the IDNR employee, he was not aware of someone taking the private lake water rights to court to challenge in a higher court.