Swamp and Overflow Lands

On September 28, 1850, the United States enacted the Arkansas Swamp Lands Act. This legislation gave the states, including California, title to all the swamp and overflowed lands. Starting in 1855, the California Legislature authorized the sale of these lands in a series of statutes and the process was overseen by the state Surveyor General, the predecessor agency of the Commission. California received over two million acres of swamp and overflowed lands, which was loosely defined as lands that required drainage or levees in order to be cultivated. Owing to the land rush occurring in California at this time and the lack of a bright line test as to what lands were considered swamp and overflowed lands, these sales were not without disputes.

The first step to acquire swamp and overflowed was to obtain an approved survey. The surveys were prepared by the county surveyor. The survey was then either approved or rejected by Surveyor General. If it was rejected, typically the area could be re-surveyed to correct the defect identified by the Surveyor General.

Finally, at the end of the process, California submitted lists to the federal government of all the lands that surveys had shown were Swamp and Overflowed. If the federal government approved with the characterization, then the land was placed on a list. Those lists are what evidence the federal approval that the lands sold by the state as swamp and overflowed lands were indeed swamp and overflowed lands that had been transferred to California under the Act. It is believed that all the land given to California under the Arkansas Swamplands Act has been sold.