Landowner Ordered to Pay for Damaged Drainage Tile

July 24, 2019 | Kitt Tovar

On July 24, 2019, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a ruling concerning damage done to drainage tile in Webster County. The court found the neighbor’s trees damaged a farmland’s drainage tile causing water to pool and damage the crops in the field. Therefore, the court found the neighbor liable for the damage and responsible for replacing the damaged tile.


A trust owned a farm field which had tiling running beneath it. This drainage tile ran beneath the neighbor’s land as well. Water flowed from the farmland down to the neighbor’s land. The neighbor owned trees which grew over the tile lines. At some point, the roots of the trees damaged the tile line and prevented water from the trust’s property from being carried from the property.  

A trustee brought a lawsuit claiming a right to drain the land using the drainage tile beneath the neighbor’s property. The lower court agreed and ordered the neighbor to  replace the obstructed tile with new tile. The neighbor appealed.

Water Drainage in Iowa

Iowa law permits landowners to drain their land with open or covered drains and then discharge the water into any natural waterway. Iowa Code § 468.621. This law allows a dominant landowner the right to use a drainage system to carry water away from their land and to the land of a servient estate. Cundiff v. Kopseiker, 61 N.W.2d 443, 445 (Iowa 1952). However, this water cannot cause damage to the servient landowner’s property. Id.

When determining drainage rights and obligations, the property at a higher elevation is considered the dominant estate and the property at a lower elevation is considered the servient estate. A dominant estate has a natural easement over the servient estate for water drainage. The servient estate may not obstruct the flow of water from the dominant estate.

Here, there was no question that the neighbor’s land was at a lower elevation than the farmland. Additionally, evidence showed that the tile was completely blocked by the neighbor’s tree roots and soil. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling and held the neighbor must pay for the replacement tiles