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Drainage Law: Is it Something You Should Worry About?
Drainage Law: Is it Something You Should Worry About?

Water is a blessing, but it can also be a curse. In flood plains and areas of low elevation, landowners must continually contend with the risk of runoff overflow and flooding. However, the natural course of gravity means you don’t have much recourse from potential water damage to your property. Moreover, if you’re not careful in redirecting runoff, you could be liable for damage to someone else’s property. Understanding local drainage law is required to know how you can best manage your property’s drainage. Thankfully, Austin Engineering has dealt extensively with drainage and stormwater management throughout the US.

What is Drainage Law?

Drainage laws differ from state to state, but the reasoning behind the laws stays mostly the same. Your local drainage laws dictate what can and can’t be done to control runoff water flow onto your property. Furthermore, drainage laws outline where the responsibility lies when water damage occurs due to runoff from one property into another.

Drainage laws are also known as the “natural flow rule.” In other words, it’s a commonly accepted rule that landowners of lower elevation properties are obligated to accept water that flows naturally from higher elevation properties. However, even as the owner of “lower” land, there are actions you can take to safely (and legally) redirect the flow of water.

What Can and Can’t Be Done

If facing issues of drainage on your property, drainage law allows for options for the redirection of water. For example, under Illinois law, private landowners have the right to improve their land to manage surface water. Per Illinois drainage law, landowners can:

  • Widen deepen and clean natural depressions carrying surface water.
  • Drain areas of standing or ponding water in the direction of overflow.
  • Create and straighten channels that can accelerate the movement of surface water so long as the natural entry point is not changed and water flow is not unreasonably increased onto lower land.
  • Construct soil-conservation structures as long as drainage waters come within natural drainage rules.

Overall, if your stormwater management and soil conservation don’t drastically affect or damage other properties, you stay in compliance with local drainage laws. Examples of actions that go against common drainage law include:

  • Damming or obstructing natural channels to prevent the natural flow of water.
  • Diverting surface water flow to areas where drainage isn’t naturally received.
  • Connecting channels to a neighbor’s channels or highway tile lines without consent.
  • Causing an unreasonable increase of natural water flow to lower land through property improvements.
  • Increasing the flow of water towards neighboring properties with malicious intent.

How to Manage the Natural Flow of Water

If a landowner of lower elevation property yourself, it might seem like you’re left to the whims of nature and gravity. Thankfully, that couldn’t be further from the truth! There are specific property improvements you can make to help protect your land from surface water overflow while abiding by local drainage laws. Such property improvements include:

  • Berms – One of the simplest and most effective ways to divert the flow of surface water is through the use of berms. Whether for a residential or commercial property, berms are easy to install for any landscaping professional. Berms are areas of raised soil meant to create a barricade between runoff and the area you wish to protect. Depending on how you utilize your berms, they can be great for planting trees, shrubs or gardens, increasing the curb appeal of your property.
  • Permeable Pavement – We’ve mentioned permeable pavement before in previous articles. Permeable pavement is a relatively new method for paving roads, lots and driveways. A permeable top and porous base allow water to flow through your pavement, be filtered, and reabsorbed by the soil beneath. If water overflow often pools near or on your paved surfaces, permeable pavement is a way to counteract the potential for flooding.
  • French Drain System – A French drain system takes more time to install, but its benefits are well worth it. French drains are long, surface-level trenches that direct water flow away from areas at risk for flooding. A trench is dug down a slope in your property where a perforated pipe is placed. After pipe placement, the trench is covered with crushed stone or gravel, helping your drain stay discrete while protecting your pipe from dirt and debris.
  • Catch Basins – If your property’s runoff water is great in volume and generally pools in one spot, a catch basin might be your best solution to manage it. Catch basins are buried reservoirs with a grate on top. The reservoir is connected to a drain pipe that redirects water away from your property. Again, drain basins are the most useful for property owners dealing with large volumes of surface water.

Protect Yourself Against Runoff

Ensure you do everything you can to protect your property while abiding by local drainage laws with help from Austin Engineering. Our land development and landscaping experts understand what it takes to keep your land safe and dry all year long.

Or, if interested in Austin Engineering’s other civil engineering, landscape design and property surveying services, contact us today. The first consultation for your proposed project is always free, with no obligation. We presently work with clients throughout the country, with offices in Peoria IL, Davenport IA, and Chattanooga TN.

311 SW Water St, Ste 215, Peoria, IL 61602
Phone: 309-204-0694

220 Emerson Place, Ste 101-A, Davenport, IA 52801
Phone: 563-207-4605

2115 Stein Dr, Ste 207, Chattanooga, TN 37421
Phone: 423-379-2725