Discussed at Public Workshops on
October 12, 13 and 14, 1988
PROCEDURES, STANDARDS AND CRITERIA
FOR DETERMINING THE
ORDINARY HIGH WATER LINE
18-22B.001 Purpose and Scope.
The State of Florida holds title to lands under navigable water
within the boundaries of the s-tate by virtue of its sovereignty,
in trust for all the people. Title to these lands is vested in
the Board of Trustees. The boundary between these sovereign
submerged lands and adjacent uplands on nontidal navigable
lakes and rivers is the ordinary high water line. This rule
chapter establishes the procedures, standards, criteria and
general methodology that is used by the Board of Trustees to
determine the location or elevation of the ordinary high water
(1) "Accretion" means the gradual and imperceptible addition of
soil, sand, sediment or other material to riparian or littoral
lands that results in dry lands in areas formerly covered by
(2) "Artificial accretion" means accretion caused by man-
made projects and operations.
(3) "Artificial erosion" means erosion caused by manmade pro-
jects and operations.
(4)'"Artificial reliction" means reliction caused by man-made
projects and operations.
(5) "Artificial submergence" means submergence caused by man-made
projects and operations.
(6) "Avulsion* means the sudden and perceptible addition to or
loss of riparian or littoral land caused by the sudden and per-
ceptible natural action of water, change in the channel of a
river, or the removal or relocation of a large quantity of soil
from one parcel of land to another parcel of land.
(7) "Bar" means any of the various types of submerged or
emergent embankments of sand or gravel on a lake bed caused by
waves or currents. The bar may be emergent at low water levels.
(8) "Barrier Island" means elongated sand-ridges, generally
parallel to the shore of lakes which rise slightly above normal
water levels. They are separated from the uplands by a lagoon
which may be emergent at low lake levels.
(9) "Board of Trustees" means the Board of Trustees of the
Internal Improvement Trust Fund created by Chapter 253, Florida
Statutes, which consists of the Governor, the Secretary of State,
the Attorney General, the Comptroller, the State Treasurer, the
Commissioner of Agriculture, and the Commissioner of Education.
(10) "Dominant plant species" means those plant species contri-
buting more to the character of a plant community than other species
in the community as determined by parameters such as basal area
and percent real cover.
(11) "Erosion" means the gradual and imperceptible wearing away of
riparian or littoral lands due to natural causes.
(12) "Flood formed levees" means a raised berm or crest adja-
cent to the channel of a stream or river usually containing
coarser materials deposited as flood waters flow over the top of
the channel banks.
(13) "Hydrophytic plant species" means any plants that grow in
water or substrate that is at least periodically deficient in
oxygen as a result of excessive water content, i.e. plants typi-
cally found in wet habitats.
(14) "Hydrophytic plant community" means a plant community in
which the dominant plant species are hydrophytic plant species.
(15) "Littoral ]ans" means those lands bordering inland, non-
tidal navigable lakes, that are also commonly referred to as
(16) "OHWL" means ordinary high water line.
(17) "Ordinary High Water Line" means the boundary between
sovereign submerged lands owned by the State of Florida by vir-
tue of its sovereignty and adjacent riparian and littoral up-
lands. The OHWL is defined by the physical characteristics of
the shore and banks of the waterbody caused by the presence and
action of water. The OHWL corresponds to water levels frequently
and commonly sustained in the high water season during ordinary
years. It is an ambulatory line that shifts in response to long
term, gradual, natural changes in water levels or in the shore-
line. In general, accretion, erosion, reliction, and submergence
shift the OHWL, while avulsion and artificially created accre-
tions, erosions, relictions and submergence do not shift the
(18) "Reliction" means the gradual and imperceptible uncovering
of land, formerly submerged under waters of a river or lake, caused
by gradually falling water levels due to natural changes.
(19) "Riparian lands" means lands bordering nontidal navigable
(20) "Spit" means a ridge or embankment of sediment attached to
uplands at one end and terminating in open water at the other
(21) "Stage duration curve" is a graph of the percent of time
water levels exceed a specific elevation during a certain period
of time at a specific location on a given waterbody.
(22) "Submergence" means the gradual and imperceptible covering
of formerly riparian or littoral land caused by gradually rising
water levels due to natural causes.
(23) "Upland plant community" means a plant community dominated
by upland plant species.
(24) "Upland plant species" means any plant species in a habitat
in which an appreciable portion of the rooting medium dries at
frequent intervals, i.e. plants typically found in dry habitats.
S18-22B.003 Physical factors indicating location or elevation of
The OHWL shall be determined by identifying the physical charac-
teristics of the shore or banks that are caused by the presence
and action of water. The primary physical characteristics that
shall be used to determine the OHWL fall into three broad cate-
gories: vegetation [to locate the plant community boundaries
that indicate the presence or absence of water]; soils [soil ana-
lyses that reveal perceptible shifts. in the hydrologic regime]; and
geomorphology [the physcial configuration of the stream, bed and
channel]. Within each of these broad categories are a number of
physical characteristics that may indicate the location or level
of the OHWL, including the following:
(a) Vegetative association, abundance, density, distribution
and successional trends.
(b) Dominance of upland and hydrophytic species;
(c) Usefulness of land to support production or ordinary agri-
cultural crops. Grazing, aquaculture, and hydrophytic agri-
cultural species do not constitute ordinary agricultural crops
for the purposes of this rule.
(d) Plant type (woody, herbaceous), age and growth patterns;
(e) Destruction of upland species.
The analysis of the vegetative indicators shall include careful
consideration of plant communities and dominant plant species.
Emphasis should be placed on the dominant plant species rather
than an indicator species. For example, the presence of scat-
tered upland species in a plant community dominated by hydrophy-
tic species would not support a finding that the area is above
the OHWL. Likewise, the presence of scattered hydrophytic spe-
cies in a plant community dominated by upland species would not
support a finding that the area is below the OHWL. The landward
extent of the hydrophytic plant community and the waterward
extent of the upland plant community indicates the range within
which the OHWL is located.
(a) Chemical composition;
.. .(e) Mottling;
(f) Pinch outs:
(g) Oxidation; and
(h) Particle size distribution, composition and sorting.
(e) Erosion and deposition; and
(f) Litter deposits.
18-22B.004 Methodology for OBHWL determinations.
(1) Test sites.
(a) The number of test sites required depends on the length,
complexity and size of the waterbody;
(b) A transect shall be established at each test site.
Transects shall be located on alternate sides of rivers and
streams, whenever practical, and shall run from the edge of the
water into a clearly identifiable upland plant community.
(c) Transects shall be located in natural, undisturbed areas
that have not been graded or have not experienced other earth
moving activities and should not be located near rapids or
restrictions such as culverts and dams.
(d) Selection.of.transect locations shall take into account the
character of the bank or shore in order to best collect important
vegetation, soil, geomorphologic and corroborative data set forth
in section 18-22B.005 of this chapter. To illustrate, transects
should be located in open water areas subject to maximum wave
attack to show geomorphic features such as terraces, scarps
and beaches; in areas with sufficient relief to show long term
changes in water level; in quiet low energy areas where organic
material has accumulated; and an areas where there is a noti-
ceable transition-of vegetation from hydrophytic to upland plant
(2) Collection of OHWL indicator data.
(a) Data regarding the soil, vegetation and geomorphologic
factors or corroborative data shall be collected along each tran-
(b) The location and ground elevation shall be observed at
each point along the transect where vegetation, soil, geomorpho-
logic indicators or corroborative data are found.
(c) Profiles shall be plotted for each transect and shall be
based on a field survey. The profiles shall show the elevation
cf tne data collection points, where the physical indicators
establish the elevation of the OEWL.
(3) Data analyses, interpretation and correlation of OHWL data.
The physical factors indicating the OHWL and the profiles pre-
pared pursuant to subsection 2 of this section shall be analyzed
and correlated to determine the elevation of the OHWL of the lake
or river. The analysis shall include qualitative and quantative
descriptions of the character of all physical fact evidence that
support such elevation.
Furthermore, if any of the indicators are an anomaly or are
inexplicitly inconsistent with the other indicators, they may
(4) Flood formed natural levees on rivers (levees) and wave
formed bars, barrier islands and spits on lakes (barrier islands).
If there are sufficient physical indicators on a levee or barrier
island to determine the elevation of the OHWL and there are
natural breaks or drainage blow-outs in such levee or barrier
island, the elevation of the OHWL may be established based on
those indicators. The elevation of the OHWL shall be projected
through or beyond the levee or barrier island to include lands
behind the levee or barrier island that fall below the elevation
of the OHWL.
(5) The elevation of the OHWL shall be determined with
reference to National Geodetic Vertical Datum, as established by
the National Ocean Survey.
18-22B.005 Corroborative Data.
(1) The following data may be used to corroborate the deter-
mination of the elevation or location of the OHWL:
(a) Aerial photography showing, among other things, important
geologic features, evidence of former water levels, and current
(c) Survey reports and field notes;
(d) Hydrologic data, water levels, stage duration;
(f) Maps, including topographic and survey maps;
(h) History of water regulation;
(i) Topographic cross sections;
(k) Other information determined relevant to the ORWL deter-
(1) Other studies determining the OHWL of the same river or
18-22B.006 Stage Duration Curves.
Stage duration records shall be analyzed as part of each OHWL
determination for those waterbodies with long-term (at least 15
continuous years) stage duration records. A stage duration curve
for such a waterbody shall be determined and plotted. Stage
duration data has been collected over varying periods of time for
different waterbodies. In selecting the time periods used to
establish the stage'duration curve beyond 15 years, the following
factors, at a minimum, shall be considered:
(1) identifiable natural cycles in the level of the waterbody;
(2) artificial influence on the water levels;
(3) dates of commencement or abatement of artificial influen-
(4) adequate statistical base.
Once the stage duration curve is plotted, the exceedence fre-
quency of the OHWL shall be determined. If the exceedence fre-
quency for the OHWL is greater than 25%, it is presumed that the
actual OHK is at a higher elevation than found and further ana-
lysis of the OHWL must be conducted. Similarly, if the
exceedence frequency of the OHWL is less than 10%, then further
analysis is necessary to determine if the actual OHWL is at a
18-22B.007 Establishing the OBWL by photogrammetry or
stage duration curves.
If the Board of Trustees determine that:
(1) :Aerial photography of a waterbody can be used to accura-
tely determine the OHWL and the ORWL depicted by the aerial
photography is field verified, the OHWL may be determined using
such photography, provided that the affected landowner agrees to
establishing the OHWL in this manner.
(2) There is sufficient stage duration data for a waterbody,
pursuant to section 18-22B.006 of this chapter, to accurately
determine the OHWL and the OHWL determined using stage dura-
tion data is field verified, the OHWL may be determined using
such data, provided that the affected landowner agrees to
establishing the OHWL in this manner. The exceedence frequency
selected for determining the OHWL shall not be greater than 25%,
nor less than 10%.
'18-22B.008 Documenting the'-OBWL.
Once the OHWL elevation or gradient has been determined, it shall
be documented through the following forms:
(1) Aerial photos with the OHWL superimposed on them shall be
prepared. The OHWL may be represented as a true constantly
curving line or in straight line form, provided that the straight
line form represents accurately all the breaks in the actual
- (2) A signed and sealed survey drawing certified by a Florida
professional land surveyor or meeting the requirements of Chapter
21HH-6, F.A.C., Minimum Technical Standards for Surveys in
Florida and the requirements of this rule;
(3) OHWL coordinates provided in computer compatible format
for Department of Natural Resources State Lands Inventory; and
(4) A report explaining the physical fact evidence, correla-
tions, and interpretations used to determine the location, eleva-
tion or gradient of the OHWL, including the transects, test sites,
and profiles required in section 18-22B.004 of this Chapter.
(5) The exceedence frequency for the OHWL shall also be deter-
mined'when sufficient data is available.
18-22B.009 Shoreline Changes.
The ORWL is an ambulatory line that shifts in response to gradual
natural shoreline and water level changes. In general, the boun-
dary between sovereign lands and riparian or littoral lands
(I shifts in response to these changes. However, certain shoreline
or water level changes that occur in response to avulsion or
artificial acoretion, erosion, or reliction do not alter the
boundary between sovereign lands and riparian or littoral lands.
Thus, an OHWL determination must include a comprehensive histori-
cal review of human activities that may have affected the shore-
line or water level, including but not limited to dredge and fil'
activities, channelization, water or flood control structures,
weirs, levees, groundwater or surface water withdrawals, and
reclamation projects. The historical review shall also determine
whether the changes were caused by a governmental entity, and the
participation or involvement of the riparian or littoral land
owner. The need for such an historical review is especially
required where the physical evidence reveals a possible OHWL
line at a higher location than the present water level and there
is some evidence of artificial reliction, since the actual OHWL
may be at the higher location.
18-22B.010 Wetlands and shallow margins.
(1) The OHWL may be located in wetlands adjacent to navigable
lakes and rivers, and in such cases the wetlands waterward of the
OHWL are sovereign lands. Placement of the OHWL in wetland areas
requires a close analysis of the three principal OHWL
indicators and utilization of the best.methods available to deter-
mine the OHWL.
(2) The OHWL may be located at the far margins of a lake or
river no matter how shallow the water, if the water is in fact
part of the navigable lake or river.
(1) OHWL determinations shall be made by the Board of
(2) After making a preliminary determination of the OHWL in
accordance with this Chapter, staff of the Board of Trustees
shall provide notice to affected landowners, who shall be given
30 days in which to submit written comments to the Board of
(3) After receipt of any comments submitted in accordance with
the -rovisions of subsection (2), the OHWL determination may be
presented to the Board of Trustees at a regularly scheduled
meeting. Affected landowners shall be noticed of the time and
place of the meeting.
(4) Upon approval of the OHWL determination by the Board of
Trustees, the Department shall cause the determination to be
recorded in any and all counties in which the subject OHWL deter-
mination is located.