Landowner Granted Injunctive Relief in Water Drainage Case – Iowa

October 13, 2008 | Roger McEowen

Iowa law specifies that the natural drainage of surface water cannot be diverted by one landowner to the damage of another landowner.  But, courts only grant injunctive relief in situations where it is necessary to prevent irreparable harm or afford relief where there is no other adequate remedy.  A drainage issue and injunctive relief were involved in this case.

Here, two neighboring (adjacent) property owners built homes in a newly developed subdivision.  The defendants, after the developer had made the final grading to the lot, brought in numerous truckloads of dirt for landscaping purposes and also constructed a berm between the adjacent properties.  After the defendants’ landscaping project was complete and the berm was constructed, the plaintiffs began experiencing water problems on their property.  The flowage of the water from the defendants’ property to the plaintiffs’ property in an increased amount caused problems for the plaintiffs – pooled water in their backyard, sump-pump running much more frequently, inability to mow or walk in certain areas, etc.  The plaintiffs sued for injunctive relief – they wanted the defendants to be stopped from obstructing the natural flow of water between their properties.  The trial court did find that the defendants had obstructed the natural flow of the water, but didn’t award injunctive relief because the court did not believe the evidence showed the plaintiffs’ problems were that severe.

On appeal, the court reversed.  The court noted that all the defendants had to do to eliminate problems for the plaintiffs was to remove some of the fill dirt and eliminate the berm, and that doing so wouldn’t harm them at all.  As such, the court ruled that was the only effective remedy for the plaintiffs and granted them injunctive relief.  

It’s hard to imagine why the defendants would create such a problem for their neighbor and then not do anything about it until ordered by the court.  Maybe what we read about Iowa being filled with friendly and neighborly people isn’t so true after all.  Lysenko v. Jensen, 2008 Iowa App. LEXIS 497 (Iowa Ct. App. Jul. 16, 2008).