Ohio’s Drainage History
Ohio's early settlers relied on constructing drainage ditches to create productive homesteads from wilderness and creating drainage required cooperation with other landowners.
Starting in the 1840s, the State Legislature began passing drainage laws to guide the construction and financing of drainage projects that would benefit multiple landowners. By 1884, an estimated 20,000 miles of ditches had been built, draining 11 million acres or over 40% of Ohio’s land.
Today, Ohio’s drainage infrastructure includes open ditches as well as buried tile lines and streams that have been reshaped to enhance drainage. At least half the state’s land is affected by this public drainage infrastructure.
Ohio’s drainage laws have been updated many times as the state has grown and developed. Drainage systems that were originally built to enhance agricultural production have also made former wetlands suitable for communities, home sites and industrial development. Unfortunately, one flaw in the early ditch laws was that they didn’t include provisions for ongoing maintenance. In 1957, legislation was passed requiring maintenance provisions for new drainage projects, but many of today’s rural land uses depend on the drainage infrastructure constructed a century ago or even earlier. As older projects continue to age, many of them will need to be re-constructed to continue providing the drainage landowners and homeowners rely on.
Today, most drainage projects involving multiple landowners are organized under Ohio’s Petition Ditch Law (Ohio Revised Code 6131), a legal process that funds projects with assessments on affected landowners and require that the financial benefits of a project exceed its cost.
Ohio Drainage Laws
Drainage is deﬁned in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC 6117.01) as the ﬂows from rainfall or otherwise produced by, or resulting from, the elements, stormwater discharges and releases or migrations of waters from properties, accumulations, ﬂows, and overﬂows of water, including accelerated ﬂows and runoﬀs, ﬂooding and threats of ﬂooding of properties and structures, and other surface and subsurface drainage.
Ohio laws governing water rights are complex. Most drainage complaints involve private property and are managed as civil matters. No county or township agency has the authority to maintain or improve storm drainage facilities across an individual's property. At this time, the authority to issue orders or resolve conflicts over water rights or drainage problems between neighbors lies with the common pleas court.
Stark Soil and Water Conservation District is not a regulatory agency in this matter; therefore, we do not have the legal authority to make requests of property owners. Stark Soil & Water can provide guidance on drainage issues for individual landowners. The District will not mediate conflicts between neighboring landowners.
The County does not administer storm drainage facilities for private properties outside of the petition process which requires a bond with filing and property tax assessments to benefiting properties. The county petition ditch process provides a mechanism for landowners to cooperate with the Stark County Commissioners to solve drainage problems.
Stark Soil & Water Conservation District provides guidance and technical assistance for off-road drainage concerns.
To contact the District, please click the Drainage Concern/Complaint Form button below. Once submitted, a staff member will contact you for further details and possibly schedule a site visit.