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Drainage Easement Explained: Your Essential Guide to Property Water Rights

A drainage easement is a legal agreement granting specific property rights for water management. It ensures proper runoff flow to prevent flooding, often requiring maintenance to keep the pathway clear. Restrictions apply to protect this function, limiting certain property uses. Curious about how these easements affect your land use and responsibilities? Dive deeper to understand the balance between utility and property rights.
Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Editorial Team
What Is a Drainage Easement?

Navigating property rights can be complex, but understanding drainage easements is crucial for homeowners and municipalities alike. A drainage easement is a legal provision attached to a property's deed, granting a third party—often a local government entity—the right to use a specific portion of the land for managing water drainage. 

A drainage easement is a document that is usually attached to a property deed that gives access to part of the property to a third party, usually a municipality, for the purpose of maintaining drainage.
A drainage easement is a document that is usually attached to a property deed that gives access to part of the property to a third party, usually a municipality, for the purpose of maintaining drainage.

According to the National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies (NAFSMA), effective stormwater management, facilitated by such easements, is essential for reducing flood risks, which affect millions of Americans annually. The easement typically includes infrastructure like culverts or drains and ensures unobstructed water flow across the land. 

A property owner may risk flooding and other problems if the drainage system does not work properly.
A property owner may risk flooding and other problems if the drainage system does not work properly.

As reported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), proper easement maintenance is key to preventing property damage and environmental hazards. It's important to note that once established, a drainage easement remains with the property deed through successive ownerships unless altered under exceptional circumstances.


Easements in general are used to address cases in which someone other than the property owner needs the right to access the property, and the easement comes with the right to use, but not full ownership rights. Another common example of an easement is a road easement, in which part of a property is used for a shared or even public road and an easement protects the rights of others to use that road. Easements are drafted by lawyers who work with the property owner and the parties who need access to ensure that the document is accurate and fair.

Property owners cannot regrade the soil or build structures on or near a drainage easement because it could impede the free flow of water over the property.
Property owners cannot regrade the soil or build structures on or near a drainage easement because it could impede the free flow of water over the property.

In the case of a drainage easement, the easement benefits the property owner as much as it benefits anyone else. In order for a municipal drainage system to work effectively, the municipality needs to ensure that drainage easements are in place so that city workers can access private property in order to maintain and repair drainage areas. For example, if a culvert runs through a property, the drainage easement allows the city to replace it if it is damaged.

Drainage easements may include a drain to feed into a drainage system.
Drainage easements may include a drain to feed into a drainage system.

If the drainage system does not work properly, the property owner can be at risk of flooding and other problems. In exchange for allowing the municipality to access the property, the property owner gets to enjoy a property which drains freely, and knows that neighbors are also obliged to maintain their drainage easements to ensure that water intrusion will not occur along the property line.

When a drainage easement is in place, there are restrictions on how the easement area can be used. People usually cannot regrade the soil or build structures because this could impede the free flow of water over the property. If there is a culvert or pipe, trees cannot be planted over it, because their roots could block it, and people are expected to keep gratings clear so that the water can drain properly. If people would like to change the terms of the easement, they must reach an agreement with the agency which holds the easement.

Who Is Responsible for Maintaining a Drainage Easement?

The property owner is usually responsible for maintenance on a drain easement. Keeping drain grates free of debris is just the start. Specific maintenance tasks can vary, but these often include cutting grass, clearing away leaves, removing fallen tree limbs and cutting away other vegetation that could clog up the grates or otherwise block access.

Soil Topography and Drainage Easements

Besides basic maintenance tasks, some municipalities have requirements for the soil around a drainage easement. If work being performed nearby would impact that soil, erosion control measures may be mandated. The goal is to limit the amount of sediment or erosion material from ending up inside the easement portion. Homeowners may also be asked to keep the existing topography. This is key because topography can impact the ability of water to flow freely and drain properly.

Drainage Easement Restrictions

Each jurisdiction sets down its own rules on drainage easement restrictions. With that in mind, it’s worth reviewing a few common types of restrictions that appear in most municipal codes. Nearly all prohibit modifications inside an easement area that would impede the free flow of water. These can include some common types of property improvements:

  • Installing swimming pools
  • Adding rooms or garages
  • Building sheds or gazebos
  • Constructing fences

Gardens, Landscaping and Hardscaping

Drainage easements can also impact a homeowner’s landscaping plans. Restrictions on construction and modifications inside an easement area also extend to planting trees or changing the slope of the land. Hardscaping may also be out of the question — paving stones, bricks, gravel, retaining walls, fountains, waterfalls, backyard ponds, garden bridges, and similar upgrades can also affect water flow and drainage.

Playground Equipment and Temporary Structures

Homeowners should also take care when it comes to home playground equipment. Swing sets, playsets, and slides need ground anchors to keep them sturdily in place. Without these anchors, the equipment could shift, rock or topple and cause serious injuries. Unfortunately, these can also cause you to run afoul of easement restrictions. Most municipalities’ rules address temporary yard additions that require serious time and effort to move if they limit or impede drainage.

Drainage Easement Example

Drainage easements can vary in size and location, depending on the property. Easement areas are generally near the perimeter — an edge of your backyard, for instance. They can contain drain grates and underground pipes or be simple constructions with a culvert and carefully sloped land.

An easement might take up just a small area of your property, but it all depends on what your municipality determines that it needs. Minimum easement widths of 30 feet are common, but some contracts may allow temporary work easements on either side of a permanent easement area.

Drainage Easement Contract Elements

A drainage easement agreement is basically a contract between a landowner and the third party requesting the easement. The landowner is usually referred to as the grantor, while the third party is the grantee. These contracts can be simple or complex, but they usually consist of a few important components.

Title, Preamble and Parties

The first part of a drainage easement contract is pretty straightforward. The title is usually something like “Drainage Easement Agreement.” Next comes the preamble, which includes the grantors' and grantee’s names, the address of the property, and the date of execution.

Language can vary from contract to contract, but it has a general format. You may see something like this: “This agreement is made this 12th day of August, 2018, by and between the City of Columbus, Ohio, a municipal corporation, and Tyrone Johnson, Owner, 1234 Any Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43213.”

Recitals

An easement contract may include recitals. This section is optional, but it’s a useful element that can explain why the easement is needed. It could say something like, “The Grantors acknowledge that it is in their best interest to grant an easement for drainage purposes to the City of Columbus.”

Agreement

The agreement portion of an easement contract details the type of easement being granted, plus the rights that come with it. This usually includes access to the easement area for maintenance, construction, repairs, and modifications. Some contracts also mention the grantor’s responsibilities, namely not blocking access and keeping the area clean.

Keep in mind that many drainage easement agreements are perpetual. In other words, there’s no time limit on the property access granted to the third party. These easements also “run with the land,” meaning that they’re attached to the property deed itself. When ownership transfers, so does the easement contract.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is a Drainage Easement? 

An accord concerning the dispensation of water is referred to as a drainage easement. This agreement is typically made between a landholder and a local authority or a different entity, enabling the entity to enter the land to oversee and regulate water movement. This includes the right to build and maintain ditches, pipes, or other drainage systems necessary for surface water or groundwater drainage. While the landholder maintains possession of the property, the entity holds the privilege to utilize the land for drainage purposes. 

What are the Benefits of a Drainage Easement? 

Having a drainage easement can provide many benefits to a landowner. Granting a drainage easement can aid in safeguarding the land against water damage, such as flooding, which may result in expensive reparations. In addition, conferring a drainage easement can contribute to advancing the water quality within the region by minimizing runoff and pollutants that could infiltrate the water supply. Ultimately, it could act as a monetary benefit for the landowner, as they have the potential to receive compensation for allowing entry to their property. 

Is a Drainage Easement Permanent? 

No, a drainage easement is not necessarily permanent. Whether the easement is permanent depends on the landowner's agreement with the organization. And if the deal is for a temporary easement, the organization must vacate the land after the period mentioned in the agreement. Who is Responsible for 

Maintaining the Drainage Easement? 

The body in charge of administering the drainage easement is the one that owns the drainage system. They are in charge of keeping the area clean and free of impediments and the drainage system in good operating condition. 

What are the Risks of Granting a Drainage Easement? 

There are some risks that come with granting a drainage easement. It is possible for the land to suffer from erosion or flooding, and the entity may potentially exploit the land for purposes that differ from what was initially stipulated in the accord. Moreover, there are circumstances in which the landowner could be deemed responsible for any detrimental impact on the organization's property

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Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
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Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.

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Discussion Comments

anon1006767

My township storm drain empties into my yard causing flooding, and they have given me the runaround for years. How can I get help? My house has been flooded several times.

anon970384

The issues below should be redressed with the help of an Attorney.

anon356437

I have a problem my yard. I have the municipality's drain and it always blocks and floods my yard. What can I do?

anon341322

We have just moved into our property and have now been informed by our homeowners that there is a vote to allow a company to run a sewage easement next to our property line! They keep offering our board more money and the fear is that they will accept and we are stuck then with all the mess, etc. this will bring. Any advice on where we stand with this? We have only been here a week and now just floored by this news.

anon330238

I have a drainage easement in my backyard. There is a culvert that stops in my backyard 25' from the rear of my property line, leaving a ditch (10' wide by about 6' deep) running through my property. My question is can I extend the culvert and fill over it, so I can get the maximum space out of my lawn?

anon313746

My next door neigbour has had a drive put in and took his garden out so there was water running out of his drive down the pavement and making it like a river.

We live on a hill, so it runs down past our drive and further down the pavement. The council has given him one month to put drainage in, but now we have noticed that he has put a hole in the wall between our house and his to run the water onto our drive. Our drive is becoming damaged due to this. Is there anything we can do?

anon298985

We have a problem regarding a neighbor who has knocked holes in a boundary wall which we paid for, to allow water to flow from his property into ours. We have installed a drainage trench and pump system to remove storm water from our property into the street.

He has done nothing other than to knock the holes in the wall. We are the last house in the street. Does this mean that we would be responsible for the storm water from all the houses "up stream" being discharged into our property?

anon293809

I built a retaining wall which doesn't need a consent and now must drain from behind said wall. Can I force the neighbor to allow me to use his sump or must I put in my own, which probably would be near impossible?

BadJohnson

Drainage easements are definitely a necessity to neighborhoods and communities, but when buying property with such an easement you should be very clear on just what the drainage easement restrictions on the property are. A guy in my neighborhood can't use over half of his yard because the city drains water onto it in the spring, forming a pond. He can't fill the area or build anything on it. When he bought the property he thought that drainage easement just meant that they might want to run a culvert through, not take half of his yard for public use. So be sure you know what you're getting into before you get into it.

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    • A drainage easement is a document that is usually attached to a property deed that gives access to part of the property to a third party, usually a municipality, for the purpose of maintaining drainage.
      By: lnzyx
      A drainage easement is a document that is usually attached to a property deed that gives access to part of the property to a third party, usually a municipality, for the purpose of maintaining drainage.
    • A property owner may risk flooding and other problems if the drainage system does not work properly.
      By: Robert Harrak
      A property owner may risk flooding and other problems if the drainage system does not work properly.
    • Property owners cannot regrade the soil or build structures on or near a drainage easement because it could impede the free flow of water over the property.
      By: david hughes
      Property owners cannot regrade the soil or build structures on or near a drainage easement because it could impede the free flow of water over the property.
    • Drainage easements may include a drain to feed into a drainage system.
      By: Aaron Kohr
      Drainage easements may include a drain to feed into a drainage system.