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2024 Legislative Session Summary

April 2, 2024

The 2024 Georgia General Assembly ended last week with our legislators passing legislation impacting our ability to boat, fish and hunt on Georgia’s navigable streams. Read on for a summary of the 2024 legislative session and about our next steps for meaningful advocacy. 

This legislative session saw the passage of a bad bill addressing boating, fishing and hunting rights on navigable streams and the defeat of a measure aimed at naming all of the state’s “navigable streams.” The end result is a weakening of our rights to use navigable streams and the creation of a House study committee to investigate what streams in Georgia are “navigable.” 

Rep. James Burchett’s HB1172, a bill that attempted to clarify Georgians’ right to boat, fish and hunt on our state’s navigable streams, passed both chambers mostly along party lines and now awaits Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature.

Georgia River Network opposed HB 1172 because the language included in the bill regarding what you could do in a navigable stream where a property owner chooses to assert their ownership of the streambed would prohibit activities like anchoring, wading or getting out on a rock to scout a rapid. Essentially, it equates touching the streambed with trespassing. 

Rep. Burchett also introduced HB1397, a bill that named some 60 streams as “presumed navigable” upon which Georgians would be guaranteed the right to boat, fish and hunt. Unfortunately, the bill did not include as “navigable” many of the rivers and streams that Georgians currently use for canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding and other watersports. Georgia River Network, Georgia Canoeing Association, American Whitewater and American Canoe Association organized a “Boaters Day” at the Capitol, educating legislators about the hazards of naming “navigable streams” and the threats to public access posed by Georgia’s current laws. Legislators quickly soured on HB 1397 and did not pass it out of committee.

Instead, House leadership introduced HR 1554, a measure creating a special House study committee investigating navigable streams. HR 1554 passed and we expect the study committee to begin meetings later this year. Georgia River Network is working with our paddlesports partners to inform and influence this committee in order to protect existing uses of even Georgia’s smallest streams that float recreational boats. Look for more information about this study committee in the near future!

Next Steps: Protecting the freedom to float is now a top priority for Georgia River Network in 2024. Our Paddle-a-thon peer-to-peer fundraising competition is now a challenge to log paddle adventures and document rivers and streams used for recreation. We will provide this valuable data to the special House committee.

Ask your state senator to protect our freedom to float

March 20, 2024

With just four days left in the 2024 General Assembly session, there’s both good news and bad news for those wanting to protect our freedom to float. 

The good news is it appears all efforts to codify a list of navigable streams, as HB 1397 attempted to do, have died. 

The bad news is HB 1172, introduced to clarify boating, fishing and hunting rights on navigable streams, is still in play. From a boater’s perspective, it is the less desirable of the two bills that were introduced addressing this issue. 

The other bill, SB 542, included explicit language clarifying and protecting our rights on navigable streams in the unusual instance where riparian property owners could claim ownership of the streambed based on pre-1863 state or crown grants. Though it passed the Senate unanimously, the House declined to even give SB 542 a hearing in committee. 

We urge you to contact your senator and ask them to vote no on HB 1172. 

Ask your legislator to protect our freedom to float

March 11, 2024

Earlier this legislative session, HB 1397 was introduced to list 64 rivers and streams in Georgia where the public would be guaranteed the right to boat, fish and hunt. While HB 1397 died in committee, the “list” could resurface as an amendment to other bills.

What’s wrong with a list? 

The current list of “navigable streams” is based on an out-dated 1863 law that defines Georgia’s navigable streams as those capable of supporting a boat loaded with freight. Georgia deserves access to rivers that matches the way we actually travel rivers in modern times.

What’s at risk?

Five locally-designated water trails, and at least five streams where outfitters currently operate were not included on HB 1397’s list of “navigable” streams. Hundreds of other streams regularly paddled were also not included. 

Nearly 50 percent of the rivers listed in Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia, a leading resource for paddling in Georgia, were not included on the list.

What’s the solution?

  • A statewide study with input from local governments, property owners, rivers/stream users and other stakeholders to determine recreational “navigability” and the public interest.
  • Legislative support for a strong and clear presumptive standard that supports the right to paddle rivers and streams that are capable of supporting paddling.
  • Any codified list of navigable streams must explicitly state that no presumption of navigability/non-navigability is made of streams not included on the list.
  • Processes for local governments and the legislature to amend any codified list based on changing uses and the public interest.
Our challenge and our opportunity is to:
  • Get more rivers added to whatever list is in development
  • Insist that Georgia needs to establish that rivers not on the list just haven’t been evaluated yet – they are not necessarily non-navigable
  • Establish a process to get more rivers added to the list of “navigable streams” based on public use, local determination, and the presence of established businesses and water trails
Urge legislators to protect our freedom to float the rivers and streams that the public uses regularly today. 

“Freedom to Float” Boater’s Day at the State Capitol

Join us at the State Capitol on March 13 from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.  to talk to legislators about how passionate we are about our Freedom to Float on Georgia rivers!

Wear your life jacket so they will see us coming and know that we are serious about boating on Georgia rivers! We will all be decked out in business casual and PFDs to talk about the quality of life we have in Georgia when we go paddling, boating, hunting and fishing on Georgia rivers. These activities enhance our communities, serve as economic development opportunities for rural communities, drive tourism, and generally support outdoor recreation in Georgia.

Let’s join together to explain that it is important for communities to continue to have access to Georgia rivers for outdoor recreation.

Where Can I Legally Paddle in Georgia? – Two Part Informational Series

Georgia River Network, Georgia Canoeing Association, American Whitewater and American Canoe Association invite you to a two part informational series to learn what the Georgia General Assembly is doing to protect – or not protect – your freedom to float Georgia’s rivers and streams.

Part I: Thank you for joining our Facebook/YouTube Livestream event Monday, March 4, at 7 p.m. to learn the basics of the proposed legislation. Watch a recording below. 

Part II: Join us for a more in-depth discussion with a Q&A on Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m. on Zoom

Register for the Zoom event here.

Legislative Update

March 1, 2024

We’ve leaped over Crossover Day!

Where are the bills we’ve been following? Here’s an update on bills that could impact our freedom to float: 

HB 1172 and SB 542, two bills that clarify boating, fishing and hunting rights on the state’s navigable streams, passed their chambers and crossed over for further consideration.

HB 1397, a companion bill to these two measures, listed all of the streams in Georgia considered navigable. The bill died when it failed to get a vote in the House Natural Resources Committee. However, we expect legislators to attach the list of navigable streams to HB 1172 or SB 542 later in the session. We will continue to work to secure protections for Georgians’ right to boat on all of the state’s streams, not just those deemed navigable.

Is your favorite Georgia paddling destination at risk of being declared “non-navigable”?

 On February 23, a new bill was filed in the Georgia General Assembly to declare the List of Navigable Streams, HB 1397.

Update on March 4, 2024- HB 1397 did not come to a vote on the House floor and did not “crossover” for further consideration! However, we are preparing for this bill, or language within the bill, to reappear in other legislation during the session. 

HB1397 lists all the streams in Georgia “presumed to be navigable” by the state. If this bill is adopted, our right to boat, fish and hunt on these streams would be guaranteed by state law. However, the public’s right to boat on streams not included on this list remains uncertain.

If your favorite boating, paddling or fishing destination is NOT included on this list of 64 rivers and streams, it could be at risk of being closed to the public.

(For example, portions of the Yellow, South, Upper Chattahoochee and Coosawattee River Water Trails are not included on this list; the Chickamauga Creek Water Trails are also left off the list)

Georgia River Network is analyzing the impacts of the proposed legislation and is working to secure our freedom to float all of Georgia’s streams capable of floating recreational boats.

 List of Navigable Streams as outlined in HB 1397

(1) Alabaha River downstream from confluence of Hurricane Creek and L. Hurricane Creek;
(2) Alapaha River downstream from confluence with Deep Creek upstream of Crystal Lake Road;
(3) Alcovy River downstream of Alcovy Trestle Road;
(4) Altamaha River downstream from confluence of Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers;
(5) Apalachee River downstream of confluence with Jacks Creek above Highway 441;
(6) Armuchee Creek downstream of US Highway 27;
(7) Big Indian Creek downstream from confluence with Mossy Creek above US Highway 129;
8 Big Satilla Creek downstream from confluence with Colemans Creek above US Highway 84;
(9) Brier Creek downstream from confluence with Reedy Creek above GA Highway 88;
(10) Broad River downstream of confluence of North Fork and Middle Fork Broad River above Bond Bridge Road;
(11) Canoochee River downstream of confluence with 15 Mile Creek above Kennedy Bridge Road;
(12) Chattahoochee River downstream of GA Highway 115;
(13) Chattooga River (NE) downstream of boundary between Georgia and North Carolina;
(14) Chattooga River (NW) downstream of US Highway 27;
(15) Chestatee River downstream of confluence with Tesnatee Creek above Copper Mines Road;
(16) Conasauga River downstream of the boundary between Georgia and Tennessee;
(17) Coosa River downstream of confluence of Oostanaula River and Etowah River;
(18) Coosawattee River downstream of confluence of Cartecay River and Ellijay River;
(19) Etowah River downstream of GA Highway 9;
(20) Flint River downstream of W McIntosh Road;
(21) Hudson River downstream of GA Highway 326;
(22) Kinchafoonee Creek downstream of confluence with Choctahatchee Creek above GA Highway 45;
(23) Line Creek downstream of Line Creek Road;
(24) Little Ocmulgee River downstream of GA Highway 134;
(25) Little Ohoopee River in its entirety;
(27) Little River (Sinclair) downstream of GA Highway 16;
(28) Little River (Withlacoochee) downstream of Kinard Bridge Landing;
(30) Little River (Clarks Hill) downstream of Lumburg Road;
(31) Little Satilla River downstream of confluence of Big Satilla Creek and Little Satilla Creek;
(32) Little Tallapoosa River downstream of Bowdon Tyus Road;
(33) Middle Fork Suwannee River downstream of confluence with Bird Wing Run;
(34) Middle Oconee River downstream of Etheridge Road;
(35) Muckalee Creek downstream of confluence with Fox Creek above GA Highway 195;
(36) North Oconee River downstream of Newton Bridge Road;
(37) Nottely River upstream of Nottely Lake to boundary between Georgia and North Carolina;
(38) Ochlockonee River downstream of GA Highway 188;
(39) Ocmulgee River downstream of Lake Jackson to the Altamaha River;
(40) Oconee River downstream from confluence of North and Middle Oconee River to the Altamaha River;
(41) Ogeechee River downstream of confluence with Little Ogeechee River above Mitchell Road;
(42) Ohoopee River downstream of GA Highway 56;
(43) Okapilco Creek downstream of US Highway 84;
(44) Oostanaula River downstream of confluence of Conasauga River and Coosawattee River;
(45) Pataula Creek downstream of confluence with Hodchodkee Creek above US Highway 82;
(46) Saint Marys River downstream of confluence with North Prong and South Prong Saint Marys River;
(47) Salacoa Creek downstream of confluence with Pine Log Creek above Lovebridge Road;
(48) Satilla River downstream of GA Highway 64;
(49) Savannah River in its entirety;
(50) South River downstream of GA Highway 138;
(51) Spring Creek downstream of confluence with Long Branch above US Highway 27;
(52) Suwannee River in its entirety;
(53) Sweetwater Creek downstream of confluence with Olley Creek above Perkinson Mill Road;
(54) Tallapoosa River downstream of the boundary between Harrison County and Paulding County;
(55) Tallulah River downstream of Seed Lake to confluence with Chattooga River;
(56) Tobesofkee Creek downstream of confluence with Rocky Creek above Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge boundary;
(57) Toccoa River downstream of confluence with Cooper Creek;
(58) Towaliga River downstream of confluence with Little Towaliga River above GA Highway 42;
(59) Tugaloo River downstream of Tugaloo Lake;
(60) Turkey Creek downstream of GA Highway 19;
(61) Upatoi Creek downstream of confluence with Randall Creek above Red Arrow Road;
(62) Warrior Creek downstream of Ellenton Omega Road;
(63) Withlacoochee River downstream of GA Highway 37; and
(64) Yellow River downstream of GA Highway 124.

Amend HB 1172 and SB 542 To Protect Our Freedom to Float

HB 1172 attempts to clarify Georgians’ right to boat, fish and hunt on our state’s navigable streams. However, it does not clarify boating rights on smaller streams that do not meet Georgia’s test of “navigability.”

This omission leaves hundreds of miles of rivers and streams implicitly at risk of being closed to the public. On such streams, riparian property owners—who own to the centerline of the stream—can assert their property rights and prohibit boaters from passing down that stream. Over the years, Georgians have lost the right to travel on multiple streams and rivers by this means.

Common Passage

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in 1849 that there exists on all streams capable of supporting passage an easement, a common highway or passage, that allows vessels to pass through private property.

Unfortunately, Georgia’s 1863 definition of navigability—a test that requires a stream to be capable of “transporting boats loaded with freight” has been used to allow property owners to exclude the public from this right of passage on streams courts have deemed “non-navigable.”

Amend HB 1172

Adding the following clause to HB 1172  will preserve that common highway or passage on non-navigable streams capable of floating small vessels: “The General Assembly finds that, by common law, there exists an easement for the passage of boats on all Georgia streams capable of supporting passage.”

What Does This Amendment Do/Not Do?

  • Mirrors laws in neighboring states of South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
  • Protects Georgia’s $1 billion boating and fishing economy and robust tourism and outdoor recreation industries by supporting more than 70 small business canoe/kayak/paddleboard/tube outfitters and thousands of fishing guides.
  • Does not change Georgia’s definition of navigable streams. Property owners still own to the centerline of non-navigable streams.
  • Does not convey rights of fishing or hunting on non-navigable streams to the public. The right of passage is one of passage only.
  • Does not change the underlying intent of HB 1172 to clarify boating, fishing and hunting rights on navigable streams.
  • Does not permit boaters to leave their boats and trespass on private property.

Contact your legislators and urge them to amend HB1172.