Different Types of Drains


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.


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How do I know what type of drain I have?

Drains sometimes look alike, whether they are private, municipal or mutual agreement drains. If a property has changed ownership, you may not know if a watercourse is a drain. One important difference between drains is the legal status impacting who is responsible for the drain, and what can be done with it.

In Ontario, there are four types of drains – municipal, mutual agreement, award and private drainage systems and roadside ditches.

Municipal Drains

A municipal drain is a system to move water. It is created pursuant to a bylaw passed by the local municipality under the Drainage Act. The municipality is responsible for the construction of the drainage system and future maintenance and repair. Costs are shared by the property owners in the watershed of the drain.

Municipal drains are identified by municipal bylaw that adopts an engineer's report. These reports contain plans, profiles and specifications defining the location, size and depth of the drain, and how costs are shared among property owners.

If you have a municipal drain or would like to begin a project under the Drainage Act, this website may help you:

If you have questions or concerns about municipal drains, click here.

Mutual Agreement Drains

A mutual agreement drain is a written agreement between two or more property owners and is registered on property title. This type of drain involves a shared drainage system between the property owners. Construction, maintenance and repair of the drain are the responsibility of the involved property owners, as detailed in the agreement.

Mutual agreement drains are private drainage systems. There is usually no involvement of the local municipality or any government agency, unless they are party to the agreement as a property owner.

Physically, a mutual agreement drain is a system to remove or divert water for flood prevention or to obtain dry land.

Mutual agreement drains are authorized by section 2 of the Drainage Act, and:

  • must be in writing (verbal agreements are not recognized under the Drainage Act);
  • are binding on the parties to the agreement;
  • have seven compulsory elements as set out in section 2;
  • may be registered on property title – this form of agreement is binding on all current and future owners of the properties that the Agreement is registered against.

If you have questions or concerns about mutual agreement drains, click here.

Award Drains

Award drains were constructed under the authority of the Ditches and Watercourses Act. However, this Act was repealed in 1963. No new award drains can be constructed today, but existing award drains assigned or awarded prior to the Act's repeal continue to have legal status today.

Under this Act, a person "requisitioned" the municipality for a drain, and an engineer – appointed by municipal council – investigated the drainage problem. If the engineer found that a ditch or pipe was required, an award drain report was written to define a solution to the drainage problem. The responsibility for construction or maintenance of the drain was then assigned or "awarded" to each property owner directly involved.

An award drain may look like any other drain, and can be a ditch or a pipe of some type.

If you have questions or concerns about award drains, click here.

Private Drainage Systems and Roadside Ditches

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).

If you have questions or concerns about private drainage systems and roadside ditches, click here.


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.



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