justice-smiles-blue-large.pngAbove is shot I took last weekend during a visit to the MOHAI before they start packing up for their new location. “Museum of History & Industry, #83.10.10,325 – Opening on Montlake Cut, August 26, 1916” is reproduced here at the express permission of MOHAI’s librarian Carolyn Marr. It offers an excellent means of explaining the term reliction.

Reliction is the gradual creation of land when water levels around a river or lake recede.

The picture above captures the breaking of the dam which contained Lake Washington’s waters prior to completion of the Montlake cut. Its effect was to connect Lake Washington to Lake Union which in turn connected to Salmon Bay through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (between Seattle’s Ballard and Magnolia neighborhoods) thus suddenly dropping the water level.

By dropping the water level in a hurry, submerged land would quickly be accessable. Who was to own this land? The case that decided this was: State v. Sturtevant, 76 Wash. 158, 135 P. 1035 (Wash. 1913). The case notes:

The right to control navigation is admittedly in the United States, but the people of the state of Washington have asserted ‘ownership to the beds and shores of all navigable waters in the state up to and including the line of * * * ordinary high water within the banks of all navigable rivers and lakes.’ Constitution, art. 17, § 1. This declaration destroyed all riparian right in tide and shore lands, and affirmed the right of the state to absolutely control and dispose of these lands in any way or to whomsoever the Legislature might ordain.

However, the case then goes on to acknowledge that the State’s consitutional drafters were not considering an event like this. And here the term event is important.

As stated earlier, Reliction is the gradual creation of land when water levels around a river or lake recede.

Now, surveyors that work around water have to make decisions about how to equitably redraw lines when they return after many years to find a relicted lake or river – but that’s a subject for another time. The disposition in this case turned largely on this stated recognition:

The value of shore lands in most instances lies in the fact that ownership gives access to deep or navigable water. The state has sold and the purchaser has bought believing this to be true. The right of a riparian proprietor or a shore owner to improve up to the line of navigation and to erect docks and piers, though sometimes denied, is now well settled.

Washington’s Supreme Court determined that the upland real property owners, and not the state, owned the land … which was to be quickly created.

Yes, that’s right – which was to be created. Notice again the date on the case – 1913 [October 25th to be exact] – and the date on the picture – August 26, 1916. Indeed, this was an anticipated event which generated attention and quite likely a great deal of anxiety as to affected people’s real property rights.justice-smiles-blue.png