Farm Horizons, June 2013

County drainage systems: how they are maintained and who pays

By Ivan Raconteur

Drainage ditches are a popular topic of discussion during county board meetings.

The county auditor/treasurer is the liaison between the benefited property owners on official county drainage ditches and the county board.

In Wright County, the county works closely with Wright Soil and Water Conservation District on matters related to drainage systems and ditch repairs.

Wright County’s ditch policy outlines procedures for repair of county ditches and includes other information beneficial to landowners.

Most county drainage systems in Wright County were established with the aid of federal wetlands grant monies between 1890 and 1925.

Minnesota adopted its drainage laws in the 1800s. Most of the original drainage work was done to add value to the land for agricultural purposes, or to help prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes.

The Wright County Board of Commissioners serves as the county’s drainage authority.

The county drainage inspector is appointed by the county drainage authority.

A drainage authority representative (DAR) is the member of the drainage authority whose county commissioner district encompasses the portion of the drainage system where repairs are contemplated.

The term “county ditch” refers to either an open ditch or tile in the drainage system over which the drainage authority has jurisdiction under Minnesota Statue Chapter 103E.

Ditch improvement may include tiling, enlarging, expanding, straightening, or deepening of an established drainage system.

Ditch repair involves restoration of all or part of a drainage system to the same condition as originally constructed and subsequently improved.

Under county ditch policy, trees may not be planted within 25 feet from an open ditch without approval from the drainage authority.

If trees need to be removed from a drainage system, it must be done in a manner that will reduce erosion.

Ditch cleanouts and repairs

Minor ditch cleaning (repairs costing less than $10,000 combined or the amount of the original benefits, whichever is less) will be done on a request basis.

Requests for cleanout must be directed to the CDI or DAR in writing.

Minor tile repairs (costing less than $10,000 or the amount of the original benefits, whichever is less) will be done on a request basis.

All repair requests will be reviewed to determine the appropriate limits of work to return the tile to proper operating condition. This may mean the work may extend upstream or downstream of the area of the requested repair.

The county will not pay for any repair work done on a county ditch or tile that has not been authorized by the county ditch authority. Unauthorized work may be brought up to county standards at the expense of the person originally responsible for the work.

Wright County recommends a permanent grass buffer strip at least 16.5 feet wide from the top edge of the channel. Grass buffer strips may be required on systems when repairs are done that require re-sloping of the ditch banks. The county encourages landowners to contact the Farm Service Agency concerning the installation of grass buffer strips.

The county drainage authority will notify landowners if a violation of the buffer strip requirement is found. Landowners will have 60 days to bring the area into compliance.

Who pays?

Prior to recommending any project, the CDI or DAR shall review the benefits for the affected drainage system and determine whether the project is cost-effective for the most recent determination of property benefited.

If the CDI or DAR determines benefits need to be reviewed and subsequently redetermined, he shall include a preliminary recommendation to the CDI prior to any work being performed.

Under Minnesota Statute 103E.735, the CDI may establish a maintenance repair fund for each of the drainage systems. The repair fund for each drainage system may not exceed 20 percent of the most recent benefit determination, or $100,000, whichever is greater.

Assessments will be prorated according to the determination of benefits.

Other drainage system issues

Livestock will not be allowed in a drainage ditch except to cross at approved locations.

Manure shall be spread a minimum of 25 feet away if incorporated, and any stockpiling of manure shall be a minimum of 300 feet from the crown of the spoils.

Feedlot runoff that is determined to be above state standards for contaminants must be prevented from entering the ditch system.

No permanent fence may be installed closer than 16.5 feet from the crown of the spoils.

If erosion areas are discovered, proper measures shall be taken to correct the problem. If erosion is discovered due to water entering the system over the spoil’s bank, a drop inlet structure should be installed to drop the water to the bottom of the ditch.

No septic system will be allowed to discharge into the drainage system.

Deer stands and other facilities used for recreation should not be placed closer than 16.5 feet from the crown of the ditch.

Agricultural practices such as plowing, tilling, pasturing livestock, or other practices not consistent with the purpose of the grass buffer strip will not be permitted.

All replacements or repairs of existing crossings must be requested in writing and approved by the CDI or DAR.

Private crossings shall be maintained by the landowner, and all costs associated with widening of a crossing beyond the original constructed dimensions will be the responsibility of the landowner.

All new crossings must be approved and sized by the drainage authority, and all costs must be paid by the landowner.

Landowners wishing to bring water from property not included in the benefited property list need to follow Minnesota Statute 103E.401. The CDI will determine the fee and prorated assessment base for adding land to the drainage system.

Municipalities requesting to discharge into a drainage system must follow Minnesota Statute 103E.411, must obtain approval from the county drainage authority, and must meet minimum discharge standards at all times.

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