Donner Lake homeowners sue California State Lands Commission |

Donner Lake homeowners sue California State Lands Commission

The lake level rests below private docks on Donner Lake during periods of low rainfall, as seen here during a previous year.
Courtesy SOS Donner Lake |

Learn more

According to its website, SOS Donner Lake is a “nonprofit mutual benefit corporation” of Donner Lake lakefront property owners created to “again fight the SLC’s claim to our property,” which the group says has been an issue since the mid-1970s.

There are roughly 300 lakefront property owners on Donner Lake, including single-family dwellings, condominiums, hotel/motel properties, and homeowner association beachfront property.

While it’s unclear how many property owners are members of SOS Donner Lake, board member Robert Lauchland told the Sierra Sun that of the roughly 300 docks on the lake, SOS membership was approaching “roughly two thirds” of that.

Visit to learn more about the group.

Is this land really your land, or is it my land? Is it both of ours? What are the limitations and what does that mean for real estate?

A local group of homeowners may learn the answer to that question soon.

Save Our Shores Donner Lake, a nonprofit association made up of Donner Lake lakefront property owners, recently filed a lawsuit in Nevada County Superior Court against the California State Lands Commission over ownership of the land on which the lake’s private docks are built.

It’s a complicated matter involving the lake’s navigability as well as the high water mark.

When California became a state in 1850, it acquired ownership of the lakebed at Donner Lake — that is, the land beneath the water.

The state owns the land up to the high water mark, which includes the land that private docks are on. The state leases land in situations like this to the dock owners, and those dock owners have to go through the town of Truckee to make any repairs.

SOS Donner Lake board member Robert Lauchland said the state is claiming the high water mark, or the boundary for the land it owns, is higher than it actually is.

In other words, Lauchland and the rest of SOS Donner Lake believe the state is claiming ownership of more land than it is rightfully entitled to.

According to SOS Donner Lake’s website, the group believes the state has no claim to the land beneath the lake or the private docks because they believe the lake is non-navigable.

That’s where things get complicated, since there are different legal tests for defining navigability.

Even if a judge finds the lake is navigable, the water line separating what land the state owns and what land the property owners can claim is also being disputed.

To be clear, the lawsuit only involves private docks. The SLC’s claim to Donner Lake is rooted in the Public Trust Doctrine, which says that the state holds domain and sovereignty over all shorelands and navigable water, regardless of private ownership.

A spokesperson for the California State Lands Commission said in an email that the commission could not comment on the matter since litigation is pending. The spokesperson did confirm the commission has until Feb. 14 to file a response.

The Sierra Sun attempted to follow up with the SLC by phone, but calls were not returned.

Look to the Sun for updates to this story as they become available in the coming months.

SOS Donner Lake v. State Lands (Complaint for Declaratory Relief) by Amanda Rhoades on Scribd

Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at, 530-550-2653 or @akrhoades.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User