Accretion, Reliction, Erosion, and Submergence

  • Ronald W. Tank


A body of water is frequently the boundary between two coterminous estates. Natural occurring, slow, and imperceptible (nonavulsive) changes in the location of the body of water will operate to change the title of the contiguous estates. The location of the body of water may change through such processes as (1) accretion (e.g., deposition of alluvial material), (2) reliction or dereliction (e.g., recession of water to expose dry land), (3) erosion (e.g., removal of material by tides, currents, or wave action, which allows water to cover a previously dry area), and (4) submergence due to rising water levels (inundation) or by lowering the level of the land (subsidence). The processes of accretion and reliction add land to the contiguous upland estate while erosion and submergence subtract land from the contiguous upland estate. If these physical changes are nonavulsive and naturally occurring, there will be changes in the legal title to the estate. A riparian owner will stand to gain title to land when his estate experiences accretion or reliction. He will stand to lose title when his estate experiences erosion or submergence [see County of Hawaii v. Sotomura,517 P. 2d 57 (1973), Garrett v. State, 289 A. 2d 542 (1972)]. There is, however, some authority to the effect that land lost by a nonavulsive process might be reclaimed [Gilbert v. Eldridge, 49 N.W. 679 (1891)].


Private Property Riparian Land Eminent Domain Instant Case Defective Condition 
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Suggested Reading

  1. Davis, L. (1976), Subsidence: Settling down within the laws of accretion, reliction, erosion, and submergence, Baylor L. Rev. 28: 319–337.Google Scholar
  2. Greenwood, M., Thomas, D., and Butler, K. (1980), Feasibility of Compensation for Man-Induced Shore Erosion Part I I: Legal Options for Compensation, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, Madison, Wisconsin.Google Scholar
  3. Sattiger, O. (1975), Waters, American Jurisprudence, 2d, Part XVI-C, SS 406–435, Lawyer Co-Operative Publishing Co., Rochester, N.Y., pp. 831–882.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald W. Tank
    • 1
  1. 1.Lawrence UniversityAppletonUSA

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