Permissible, not advisable activities


Earlier this year we wrote about activities that fall into the category of what we call “permissible, not advisable.” This means that just because there is no law, ordinance, or precedent specifically prohibiting an activity, does not mean it is a good idea. As more people move to a rural setting, the opportunity for issues and problems can occur. Oftentimes, conflicts can be avoided with common sense and with a more thorough knowledge of our county and our natural resources. Here are a few more examples related to drainage that illustrate “permissible, not advisable.”

We periodically receive calls where a new homeowner informs us that they have water in the basement and are convinced the house is located on an artesian well. What is an artesian well? An artesian well is a well that doesn’t require a pump. This is because the well water reaches the land surface due to the pressure in the rocks underground. What we find when we meet with these folks onsite is that the house was constructed on top of an old farm drainage tile, not an artesian well. Fortunately, a fix is possible by locating the tile (or tiles as the case may be) in the yard and routing it around the foundation to a suitable outlet. However, our vision of a perfect world is one in which the prospective buyer invests some time before purchasing an existing home or land on which to build. Investigating the soils in the immediate area, as well as perusing several years of aerial photos, all from the comfort of your computer, can help identify wet soils and floodplain soils. Many times, farm tile lines show up clearly on aerial photography. To learn more, check out Delaware County’s Geographical Information System at Knowing the possible limitations of the site ahead of time can save you money and prevent headache and heartache later.

Our staff, in cooperation with the Delaware County Engineer’s Office and the Delaware County Board of Commissioners, perform drainage inspections of those areas under the county’s drainage maintenance program. Every year, we find bizarre items blocking culverts and stormwater inlets. Last summer, we cleaned out a stormwater inlet that was plugged with beer cans (full beer cans), and we figured this was a secret stash of the neighborhood kids. We feel certain they won’t repeat this idea upon discovering their stockpile missing. While this is an amusing story, in a heavy rain event those cans could have obstructed the storm drain enough to cause flooding of the street and nearby houses.

In another instance, we found a stormwater inlet, also known as a catch basin, full of dog manure. The landowner didn’t understand the function of the stormwater inlet, which is to take precipitation safely away from homes, roads, and other infrastructure during a weather event. She thought it was a good disposal location. In reality, the stormwater inlet drains directly into the storm sewer which then empties into the nearest stream or river. We explained that filling the inlet with dog manure spreads pathogens. Pet waste also contains nutrients which can contribute to harmful algal blooms in our streams, rivers, and lakes. Clogging the catch basin with manure, yard waste, litter, and anything other than rainwater and snowmelt can back up storm water and lead to flooding. Pet owners can keep our land and water clean by picking up pet waste and disposing of it properly in the trash. Only rain down the drain!

My last example again involves a homeowner impeding drainage. A large piece of plywood was put in a subdivision pond to block the outlet pipe. It was an effort to raise the water level, increase the pond’s dimensions, and add to the aesthetics of the site. The pond in question was part of the subdivision’s drainage system, under county maintenance, and served as part of the development’s requirements for sediment control. The pond was designed so that the water flowing into it would be held long enough for any sediment to settle out before exiting to the nearby stream. Raising the water level meant that the water moved too quickly through the pond, taking any soil, nutrients, and pollutants with it. Removal of the plywood was quite difficult, because it was a large piece and had the power of the pond water behind it. Education of the homeowners association officers and the subdivision residents was an important step in preventing this from happening again.

Soils and drainage are complicated subjects but can have long-term consequences for your property and community. The Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District can provide advice, and in some circumstances, an onsite visit may be needed to fully assess the issues. Being fully aware of all the information available will ensure that you are not falling into the “permissible, but not advisable” quagmire. To learn more about conservation, or to schedule an appointment, please call 740-501-5569 or visit our website at

By Bonnie Dailey

Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District

Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to

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