Private Drainage Systems and Roadside Ditches


This eReference tool is not a substitute for specialized legal advice. Always consult a lawyer before implementing any drainage changes to your property or operations or considering any legal action.


A private drainage system is constructed by a property owner to resolve their own drainage problems. These systems are usually a ditch, buried pipe or grassed waterway, and collect or concentrate surface water. A roadside ditch runs alongside a road, and is built to drain the road bed and the water draining off the road surface. (Note: a municipal drain built beside a road is not considered a roadside ditch). You may have a number of questions related to private draining systems and roadside ditches:

 I have a private ditch (or pipe with surface inlet) that extends close to the road. Last year, the road authority installed a new culvert under the road and directed their water into my ditch. Do they have the right to do that?

No. The road authority has no right to direct their water into your private drainage system. There are three options to resolve this problem:

  1. Initiate discussions regarding a mutual agreement drain;
  2. Petition your municipality under the Drainage Act for a municipal drain to obtain a legal outlet for the drainage problem;
  3. Consult your lawyer and see what legal options are available to you.

Why doesn't the road authority make their road ditches deep enough to outlet my tile drains?

The road authority is not required to dig their ditches deep enough to provide outlet for tile drains. Road ditches are just another form of private ditch, and the road authorities are only obligated to dig ditches deep enough to handle the surface water off their own roads. They are not even required to take surface water from surrounding land. There are two options to resolve this problem.

  1. Initiate discussions for permission to drain into the roadside ditch. If permission is received, consider a mutual agreement drain;
  2. Petition your municipality under the Drainage Act for a municipal drain to obtain a legal outlet for your drainage problem.

The road authority has indicated that I cannot direct my water into their roadside ditch. Is this correct?

Yes. The roadside ditch was built to resolve the road's drainage problems, not those of the adjoining properties. There are two options to resolve this problem:

  1. Initiate discussions for permission to drain into the roadside ditch. If permission is received, consider formalizing the arrangement with a mutual agreement drain;
  2. Petition your municipality under the Drainage Act for a municipal drain to obtain a legal outlet for your drainage problem.

My property and my adjoining neighbour's property have shared a private ditch for as long as anyone can remember. My neighbour has blocked the ditch and now my property has no way of draining. What can I do?

You may be able to claim a right of drainage so your neighbour cannot block the ditch.

There are three options to resolve this problem:

  1. Initiate discussions with your neighbour to see if they will remove the obstruction from the ditch. If they agree, consider formalizing the arrangement with a mutual agreement drain. Environmental regulations may apply to work performed on the private ditch;
  2. Petition your municipality under the Drainage Act to have a municipal drain extended across your neighbour's property. By using the Drainage Act, you are required to contribute financially to the solution;
  3. Contact your lawyer to see if you can claim prescriptive rights. This may involve initiating legal action.

Last year, a residential subdivision was developed on the property right next to mine, and the developer directed the outlet of the storm water management pond into my private ditch on my land. My ditch is starting to erode and my land floods occasionally. What can I do?

Your ditch is your infrastructure. There are at least three options that may resolve this problem:

  1. Initiate discussions with the municipality and/or developer to see if they are prepared to address your problems. If permission is received, consider formalizing the arrangement with a mutual agreement drain. Environmental regulations may apply to work performed on the private ditch;
  2. Petition for a municipal drain to convert your private ditch into a municipal drain. This action forces the upstream lands – including the development – to contribute to the cost of the drainage system. By using the Drainage Act, you are required to contribute financially to the solution;
  3. Consult your lawyer and see what legal options are available to you. This may include initiating a legal action.

Additional resources


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca