So, What's A Municipal Drain?
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Table of Contents
- Physically, What is a Municipal Drain?
- The Purpose of Municipal Drains
- Why is it Called a "Municipal Drain"?
- Do's and Don'ts for Property Owners
Perhaps you've just purchased property, and been told
by your municipality that you are assessed into a municipal drain. Perhaps
you have owned a property for a couple of years and have recently discovered
that you are located in the watershed of a municipal drain. You're probably
wondering, what does this mean? How does it affect me? What will it cost?
Physically, What is a Municipal
Physically, a municipal drain is simply a drainage system.
Most municipal drains are either ditches or closed systems such as pipes
or tiles buried in the ground. They can also include structures such as
dykes or berms, pumping stations, buffer strips, grassed waterways, storm
water detention ponds, culverts and bridges. Even some creeks and small
rivers are now considered to be municipal drains. Municipal drains are
primarily located in rural agricultural areas of the province.
Figure 1. Plan
of a Municipal Drain.
The Purpose of Municipal Drains
Municipal drains have been a fixture of rural Ontario's
infrastructure since the 1800's. Most municipal drains were constructed
to improve the drainage of agricultural land by serving as the discharge
point for private agricultural tile drainage systems. However, they also
remove excess water collected by roadside ditches, residential lots, churches,
schools, industrial lands, commercial lands and any other properties in
rural areas. They are a vital component of the local infrastructure. Without
them, many areas of the province would be subjected to regular flooding,
reduced production from agricultural land and increased public health
Why is it Called a "Municipal Drain"?
There are many, many drainage ditches and buried pipes
in the province, but not all of them are "municipal drains".
So what distinguishes a municipal drain?
Municipal drains are created under the authority of the
Drainage Act. There are 3 key elements of a municipal drain:
- Community Project - Landowners who need to solve a drainage
problem may submit a prescribed petition under the Drainage
Act to their local municipality, requesting the establishment
of a municipal drain. If certain criteria are met, the municipality
appoints an engineer who prepares a report, identifying the proposed
solution to the problem and how the costs will be shared. There
are various meetings where landowners in the watershed of the
municipal drain can voice their desires and concerns. There are
also several appeal stages where they can voice their objections.
So, the end result of the process is a "communally accepted"
- Legal Existence - After all appeals have been heard and dealt
with, the municipality passes a by-law, adopting the engineer's
report. The municipality then has the authority and the responsibility
to construct the project. The cost of the work is assessed to
the lands in the watershed in the same ratios as contained within
the engineer's report. So for a ditch or a pipe to be a municipal
drain, there must be a by-law adopting an engineer's report.
- Municipal Infrastructure - Once a municipal drain has
been constructed under the authority of a by-law, it becomes part
of that municipality's infrastructure. The local municipality,
through its drainage superintendent, is responsible for repairing
and maintaining the municipal drain. In certain circumstances,
the municipality can be held liable for damages for not maintaining
Do's and Don'ts for Property Owners
- Find out the name of your local municipality's drainage superintendent.
- If you don't have any information on the municipal drains that affect
your property, make arrangements with your municipality to get copies.
Please note you may have to pay for the photocopies.
- Find out how the municipal drain affects your property. How much is
your property assessed? Are there any buried municipal drains that cross
beneath your land? Is there a municipal working space along or above
a municipal drain on your property?
- Remove debris from any catchbasins that may be located on your property
or the adjoining road. This type of ongoing preventative work can reduce
the possibility of property damage during storm events
- As an involved landowner, you have a responsibility for the drains
located on your property, so observe them. If you notice any problems,
immediately notify the drainage superintendent or the local municipality.
- Before purchasing a property, investigate how municipal drains may
affect the property.
You can expect:
- Municipalities must maintain their municipal drains. Therefore, if
you have a municipal drain located on your property, you can expect
that your municipality will periodically arrange to enter onto your
property and perform the necessary work. After it is completed, you
will be billed for your share of the cost.
- For a period of time while the work is being completed, you can expect
the working space along the drain to be accessed by the maintenance
equipment and the land to be disrupted to some degree. Because this
working space is a form of an easement, you will not be paid for any
damages that occur on this land.
- Municipalities have the right to accumulate the cost of maintaining
a drain for up to five years or $5,000. Therefore, it is possible that
you may be billed for work that occurred before you owned a property.
You should not:
- Along every municipal drain is an unregistered working space that
the municipality has the right to use to maintain or repair the drain.
Keep this working space accessible and do not plant trees or build structures
in this area. If you do, and it results in an obstruction to the maintenance
equipment, you may have to pay the cost of removing that obstruction.
- Don't store materials such as brush, lumber or other floatable material
near the drain, because during storm events, it could float away and
block the drain.
- The local municipality is responsible for maintaining municipal drains
on behalf of the community of landowners involved in a drain. If you
want to install a culvert or bridge on an open ditch municipal drain,
or if a municipal drain requires maintenance, don't perform the work
yourself; instead notify your municipality. If you do unauthorized work
on a drain and that work results in damages to the drain or to other
landowners, you could be responsible for paying the cost of repairing
- Although they are "man-made", all municipal drains eventually
connect with the many beautiful lakes, rivers and streams located in
Ontario. Do not direct septic system waste, milkhouse wastes, barnyard
and manure storage runoff or other pollutants directly to these drains.
Figure 2. Cross-Section of an Open Ditch Municipal
For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300