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A body of water, such as a river, canal or lake, is navigable if it is deep, wide and slow enough for a vessel to pass. Preferably there are few obstructions such as rocks or trees to avoid. Bridges must have sufficient clearance. High water speed may make a channel unnavigable. Waters may be unnavigable because of ice, particularly in winter. Navigability depends on context: A small river may be navigable by smaller craft, such as a motor boat or a kayak, but unnavigable by a cruise ship. Shallow rivers may be made navigable by the installation of locks that increase and regulate water depth, or by dredging.
Inland Water Transport (IWT) Systems have been used for centuries in countries including India, China, Egypt, the Netherlands, the United States, Germany, China, and Bangladesh. In the Netherlands, IWT handles 46% of the nation's inland freight; 32% in Bangladesh, 14% in the United States, and 9% in China.
What constitutes 'navigable' waters can not be separated from the context in which the question is asked. Numerous federal, and some states, define navigability for various purposes from admiralty jurisdiction to pollution control,and from property boundaries to the licencing of dams. The numerous definitions and jurisdictional statutes have created an array of case law specific to which context the question of navigability arises. Some of the most commonly discussed definitions are listed here.
Navigable waters of the United States, as defined in 33 CFR 329, are those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce while the waterway is in its ordinary condition. Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. 403), approved 3 March 1899, prohibits the unauthorized obstruction of a navigable water of the U.S. This statute also requires a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for any construction in or over any navigable water, or the excavation or discharge of material into such water, or the accomplishment of any other work affecting the course, location, condition, or capacity of such waters.
The definition of Navigable waterways reviewed for purposes of title is first based upon Federal laws. If a river was considered navigable at the time of statehood, the land below navigable waters was conveyed to the state. Most states retained title to these larger navigable rivers (in trust), but were free to grant riverbed title to individuals so long as the free passage of boats remained for purposes of commerce.
The scope of FERCs authority was granted under the Federal Power Act, 1941 (16 U.S.C 791). Such authority is based on congressional authority to regulate commerce; it is not based exclusively on title to the riverbed [16 U.S.C. 796(8)]. Therefore FERCs permitting authority extends to even non-navigable tributaries as recognized by the courts, [US v. Rio Grande Irrigation, 174 U.S. 690, 708 (1899)],[Oklahoma v. Atkinson, 313 US 508, 525].
Also, the Clean Water Act use the terms "traditional navigable waters," and "waters of the United States" to define Federal agency jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Here, "Waters of the United States" include not only navigable waters, but also waters with "a significant nexus to navigable waters"; both are covered under the Clean Water Act. The terms "navigable" and "significant nexus" are still open to judicial interpretation as indicated in two U.S. Supreme Court decisions: "Carabell v. United States" and "Rapanos v. United States".
In India there are currently three National Waterways totaling a distance of 2921 km. They are:
It is estimated that the total navigable length of inland waterways is 14500 km. A total of 16 million tonnes of freight is moved by this mode of transport.
Waterways provide enormous advantages as a mode of transport compared to land and air modes of transports.