Ohio Agricultural Law Blog -- March Madness Brings Surface Water Drainage

Monday, March 25th, 2019
Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, Agricultural and Resource Law Program

Depending upon who you talk to and when you talk to them, Ohio is either blessed or cursed as a water rich state.  Droughts certainly occur, but in the past couple of years Ohio farmers have experienced record breaking rainfall both by measures of inches and intensity.  As spring showers bring about a transition from winter to spring, we wanted to take a moment to look at Ohio’s surface water drainage laws.

Ohio courts follow the “reasonable use” doctrine for surface water drainage.  Under this doctrine, a landowner may drain surface water from his or her property in a reasonable manner.  When a landowner’s attempts to drain surface water from his or her property seem to result in harm to the property of another, legal issues may arise.

Courts and juries generally determine whether a landowner acted reasonably by looking at a number of factors, such as: the utility of the drainage, the gravity of the harm, the practicality of avoiding the harm, and whether it is fair to relieve the landowner of liability.  These factors are examined and balanced on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the landowner should be found liable for the harm experienced by another.

Certainly there are ways to resolve a dispute before resorting to a lawsuit.  Landowners may talk with their neighbors to work out an agreeable solution.  Landowners also have the option to work with the county Soil and Water Conservation District or county engineer’s office to file a petition for a drainage improvement project that would address the drainage need.

For more information, check out our law bulletin on Surface Water Drainage Rights in Ohio, which is available HERE.  It explains the “reasonable use” doctrine, describes how reasonableness is determined, and discusses remedies for harm caused by drainage.

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