Frequently Asked Questions

Our Reservoirs and Land Stewardship Agreements

The Water Distribution System website provides a map of each water treatment plant’s service area and a description of its water source. If you live outside the City of Columbus’ water service area, please check with your local jurisdiction or water utility company.

The primary reason for the limits to land usage around the reservoirs is to protect the quality of Columbus’ drinking water supply. The City of Columbus must comply with all local, state, and federal regulations related to the protection of water resources including the Clean Water Act (1972), which is enforced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency. The USACE regulates activities permitted within navigable waterways, while the EPA regulates pollutants allowed within a waterway as a result of permitted activities within and immediately near that waterway.

Residents who live near drinking water reservoirs have a special responsibility to care for this vital resource in a way that will preserve it for future generations. This is a voluntary license agreement between those who own property next to city-owned land surrounding the reservoirs and the City of Columbus. It provides residents an opportunity to actively participate in protecting the source of our community’s drinking water while allowing for certain modifications such as paths, boat docks, or other features described above on the city-owned land with an approved Land Stewardship Plan.

It is a legal term that, for these purposes, means a structure or any unauthorized modification to city-owned land that lacks a valid permit from the City of Columbus.

The reservoirs were built for drinking water storage and not flood control. When the reservoirs become full due to rain or melting snow, they were designed so that the excess water coming in from the watershed spills over the dams to the waterway below. In the case of Hoover Reservoir, there is a limited amount of flood control ability by utilizing gates at the dam that can be raised or lowered a few feet.

During high water level conditions, gauge levels and weather forecasts are monitored closely by the Columbus Department of Public Utilities staff and the Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security office. The city uses the United States Geological Survey (USGS) river gauge data at to monitor river levels. In addition, the Division of Water’s Water Protection Specialists patrol some nearby flood-prone areas to do spot checks.

Recreation on the Reservoirs

If you’re in need of a boat tow, you can contact the Watershed Management Office off-hours at 614-648-6019.

Please notify the appropriate local law enforcement agency immediately, whether that be Columbus Police, a county township, sheriff, or suburban police department. If an emergency, please call 911.

Current conditions for Ohio lakes and reservoirs can be found on the USGS site. Please note, the USGS provides the current elevation only. If you want to determine the reservoir levels, you will need to compare the daily reported elevation to the normal crest:

  • O’Shaughnessy Dam crest: 848.50’
  • Griggs Dam crest: 756.18’
  • Hoover Dam crest: 894.00’

The difference between the elevation and the crest will provide the reservoir level, indicating the feet above or below the normal.

Reservoir temperatures are not monitored.

These rules vary by reservoir and zones. On Hoover, there is a limit of 10 MPH (miles per hour) and 10 horsepower (hp), which is due to the clay soil conditions being more easily erodible and to limit the wake and sedimentation. On Griggs and O’Shaughnessy, the maximum MPH is 40 and hp is not limited. Rules for locations vary so please check posted limits. On all reservoirs, maintain idle speed when within 100 feet of the shoreline or bridges. Vessel size limits also apply.

Complete rules can be found on Municode.

Select Title 9 (Streets, Parks and Public Properties), then select Chapter 921 (Watercraft on Reservoirs), select Vessel and Operations section for the reservoir of your choice. 921.01-1 through 921.01-5 are the sections of interest.

  • 921.01-1 Vessels and Operations on Waterways
  • 921.01-3 Griggs Reservoir
  • 921.01-4 Hoover Reservoir
  • 921.01-5 O’Shaughnessy Reservoir

All other applicable state and federal navigation rules and regulations still apply.

These rules vary by reservoir. Go to Municode, select Title 9, click on Chapter 921 – WATERCRAFT ON RESERVOIRS, click on the Vessel and Operations on Waterways section (921.01-1) and look for the reservoir of your choice.

For watercraft services, including inspection and registration, contact the Ohio Division of Natural Resources Parks and Watercraft Office at 877-426-2837. In addition, our Watershed Management Office can assist you with a courtesy safety inspection. The office phone number is 614-645-1721.

A valid Land Stewardship Agreement is a prerequisite to obtaining a private dock permit along with the site being eligible for a dock. To see if a site is eligible, please click here. If the site is eligible, please fill out the Land Stewardship Application here and the Watershed Management Section will assist.

Shelter houses are managed by the Recreation & Parks Department. They can be contacted at 614- 645-3337 or visit their website.

Adjacent Landowners

Plans have been developed for each adjacent property that is eligible for a Land Stewardship Agreement. View plans for adjacent properties.

You will be able to determine any access or element that you are eligible to apply for by reviewing your Land Stewardship Design Plan.
Please submit your information and question in the contact form. Additionally, you can call 614-645-1721 or email
Adjacent landowners with a Land Stewardship Agreement will need to sign a new one with the city which conforms to the updated standards. In order to renew or alter your current agreement, please complete the application form. You will be contacted by the Watershed Management staff to complete the process.

The elements a property is eligible for are not negotiable. There is a possibility that the location of some of the eligible items could shift. However, this will be determined by the city based on the impact these items could have on the surrounding land and water.

It is the neighboring landowner’s responsibility to know where the property line is located. Locating the property pins or having a professional property survey provides the most accurate result. For a general location of the property line, review of the county auditor maps may be helpful.

The first preference is to work with the Watershed Management staff –they will meet with the property owner on-site to explain and try to come up with a workable solution. The courts can serve for appeals when the city and property owner cannot come to a reasonable agreement.

Land surrounding the reservoirs plays an important role in protecting the quality of our primary drinking water supply. Rainwater and snowmelt can carry chemicals, excess nutrients, sediments, and many other pollutants miles from their origin. A deep-rooted vegetative buffer of native trees and plants protects against soil erosion and acts as a filter, keeping contaminants from entering the water.

Native plant roots can grow 15 to 20 feet deep while turf grassroots are typically only three inches long. The level of contaminants and soil particulates in our raw water supply also has an impact on drinking water treatment costs. Containing treatment costs helps keep water rates low.

Prospective Neighbors and Real Estate Agents

This is an issue Columbus Public Utilities staff have brought to the attention of the central Ohio real estate community many times, but the problem persists. Our advice to any prospective home or land buyer is to do your research before the purchase and to check all documents at the time of closing to be perfectly clear about what you are buying.

The property immediately adjacent to all three reservoirs is owned by the City of Columbus, which is a necessity to ensure the safety of our water supply. The amount of land owned and protected by the city varies throughout the reservoirs. View the map outlining the property lines. You are able to purchase property that is adjacent to the city-owned property surrounding the reservoirs. If you do purchase this property, you will need a Land Stewardship Agreement to access or modify the city-owned property in any way. Each adjacent property has a detailed plan including what access or modifications the property owner can apply for.

The new property owners will need to enter into a Land Stewardship Agreement with the city if they wish to access city-owned property or continue to have docks or any other structure. Please be sure to check the plans for the property to ensure that any current access or modifications follow updated guidelines and will be able to be included in the new agreement.