Farmer ordered to remove tile due to illegal drainage activities

October 2, 2006 | Roger McEowen

Iowa law permits a landowner to construct open or covered drains to drain surface water in the general course of natural drainage upon the landowner’s property. However, such drainage activities cannot increase the quantity of water or change the manner of the discharge of the water onto someone else’s property. Also, Iowa law allows landowners that pay drainage district assessments to connect to lateral drains maintained by the drainage district so long as the directions of the district are followed with respect to making and maintaining the connection. Both of those issues were involved in this case.

Here, the plaintiff owned farmland within a drainage district that has two outlet mains. The lands (and consequent drainage) within the district are divided to the two mains and are assessed accordingly. The plaintiff attempted to drain from the watershed (service area) of one main to the other main because his existing drainage had become inadequate. His argument was that a landowner is entitled to use the facilities of the district, including either main (in other words, he argued that he could legally construct and maintain a private tile that crosses an internal watershed boundary). The trial court disagreed, and held that the plaintiff’s continued maintenance of the cross-boundary drainage tile caused irreparable damage and enjoined the plaintiff from constructing and maintaining a similar drain in the future. The court found that the drainage district had provided the original main for the plaintiff’s land, that it was the outlet for which the plaintiff was assessed, and that the plaintiff was barred from draining into the other main for which he wasn’t assessed and which was not provided to drain his land or designed to carry the water that could be drained from his land. The appellate court affirmed, noting that the district had never given him approval for constructing the lateral tile, and that the tile overloaded one of the mains and diminished the benefits to other landowners within the district of the district’s drainage system. The plaintiff was ordered to remove the tile and is barred from constructing and maintaining such a drain in the future. Webster CountyBoard of Supervisors v. Showers, No. 6-539/05-1300, 2006 Iowa App. LEXIS 1080 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 21, 2006).