Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

Sam B. Hilliard


The extent of State-owned waterbottoms in south Louisiana was examined through an analysis of Louisiana State court decisions. This analysis included court cases dating from 1812, the year of statehood, until 1992. Sample court cases were divided into groups representing some of the major issues involved in waterbottoms disputes for both coastal and inland areas. The nature of waterborne commerce was examined with an emphasis on identifying the types and sizes of watercraft used in commerce. The identification of waterborne commerce is important because the State owns the bottoms of all naturally formed navigable waterbodies, and navigability is determined by the potential of a waterbody to float commercial watercraft. Particular emphasis was placed on identifying commercial watercraft used in the logging and fishing industries. From the court cases examined it appears that the State is gaining ownership of waterbottoms along the coast through both accretion and subsidence/erosion. These gains are small, however, because actual ownership transfers are limited to those waterbottoms dispute areas that have actually been settled in court. Implied State ownership has been expanding inland through coastal erosion and subsidence. This implied ownership is evident through the jurisdictional actions of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and other State agencies having legal authority over State waterbottoms. On inland lakes, the State has maintained ownership of both accreted and eroded areas, while on inland streams the State is losing title to the riparian landowners in cases of extensive accretion. Frequently the ownership issue on inland streams has been tied to proving navigability. Louisiana courts have been inconsistent in the standards applied for making navigability determinations. One of the most important unsettled issues is the determination of State ownership of coastal waterbodies that are affected by the ebb and flow of tides. The cases examined do not provide a clear distinction between seashore, arms of the sea, and coastal waterbodies influenced by the tides. The research findings indicate that local or domestic commerce is being conducted by watercraft that are much smaller than the recognized commercial watercraft cited in many important court decisions.