So, What's A Municipal
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
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 risks.
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
- 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
Figure 2. Cross-Section of an Open
Ditch Municipal Drain.
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
- 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
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 the damages.
- 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.
For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300