Given the predominance of poorly drained soils that make up Delaware County, assisting residents with their drainage questions is a big focus of the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. While these soils are extremely productive, they do have occasional periods where too much water is an issue. Not a day goes by that we aren’t answering phone calls about water problems, and if we get hit with some heavy rain, then look out, the phone is ringing endlessly. As I write this, we are having a spell of dry weather but as we all know, that can change in just a few minutes.
Ohio laws governing water rights and drainage are complex, and this is because they have evolved out of case law. Disputes between landowners are often settled in court on a case-by-case basis, making it difficult to summarize the precedents that result. In an effort to assist landowners in navigating the convoluted world of drainage and water rights, here are some tips:
• A landowner is entitled to the reasonable use of the water that flows across his/her land, as long as the water is returned to its natural watercourse. This includes ponding water behind a dam for personal use or making drainage improvements to protect structures.
• A landowner is generally required to accept the water that flows onto his/her property in a natural watercourse, so long as no additional water from another watershed has been added to such flow.
• A landowner is generally obligated to outlet a natural watercourse onto his/her downstream neighbor at the same point the water left the property prior to any development of the site, and in the same flow characteristics.
An important fact to keep in mind is that there are no drainage or water rights police. No government agency has the authority to resolve conflicts about water rights or drainage problems between neighbors. An exception to this would be those municipalities that have stormwater ordinances.
We have learned from our experiences answering your calls for assistance, and we have some tips. If you have a drainage issue with your neighbor, please talk to him/her first.
If you call us with a drainage problem or complaint about your neighbor, please have as much information for us as possible. How long have you lived at the property? Is farm tile present? If so, what is its condition? Do you have tile blowholes on your property? Do you have a functioning outlet on your property? Have you tried to fix the issue yourself?
We have access to aerial photos and can often answer some simple questions by telephone. Knottier issues may require a site visit by one of our staff, and these are set up by appointment. Please remember that Ohio’s soil and water conservation districts offer technical advice only and do not have enforcement authority over drainage disputes. Sometimes the best route for solving intricate drainage problems is through the Ohio Revised Code, Section 6131, (commonly known as the ditch petition process), which provides a way for the county commissioners to act on the landowners’ behalf to enact a long term solution. Our website has an informational booklet about the 6131 process entitled, “Ohio Drainage Laws Petition Procedures,” at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us. Just click on the Resources tab in the green bar along the top.
The Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District is located at 557 A Sunbury Road, Delaware. You can also learn more about our programs through Facebook and Instagram.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.