As a result of several recent heavy rainfall events, the Preble Soil and Water Conservation District has received a flood of calls from concerned landowners. We have heard about issues such as erosion, sedimentation, and the amount of water running off of their neighbor’s property. While property owners cannot control the rain and the resulting runoff they receive, they can manage their land in ways that reduce the effects of heavy rainfall.
Now for a bit of Drainage 101. Water runs downhill. The law of gravity dictates this, not us. As the Ohio Drainage Laws are written, in rural areas, downstream lands are servient to upstream lands. In other words, the lower landowner is required to accept the natural water flow from upstream, but the upper landowner is prohibited from changing the natural drainage and thereby increasing the burden on the lower landowner.
Water flowing downhill, propelled by the force of gravity, might seem easy enough to deal with, but it gets sticky when one man’s assumed ‘natural water flow’ is perceived by someone else as ‘he’s washing me out.’ That’s usually when we get the call at the Conservation District.
What can be done to minimize the risk of erosion, sedimentation, or water runoff? Whether it is cropland or a residential area, several conservation practices come to mind that may be used to alleviate these problems. The list might include a grassed waterway, tile, diversion, surface inlet, or the use of rip-rap (heavy rock). On cropland, possible fixes might include a change in tillage practices, a change in crop rotation, the use of cover crops, or a combination of these.
While subsurface tile is only one potential solution to water issues, it is one of the most crucial and least understood parts of drainage in our part of the world. Drainage tile helps to remove excess water from the soil profile. Where tile is in place, the soil functions like a sponge, soaking up rainwater. Without tile, rain falling on waterlogged soil has no place to go but run off. Even the early settlers realized that without farm drainage, much of Ohio’s cropland would be too wet to produce crops. Tile is still being installed today, either to improve or replace older systems, or where tile has never been put in. When tile systems break down, they often cause worse problems than if there was no tile at all. It is essential to repair tile before the problems worsen.
Many possible fixes for drainage issues involve spending money, and our conversations often grind to a halt when it comes to this point. To put it in perspective, imagine building a barn or a house and expecting it to last 75 or 100 years without doing any roofing or siding repairs. The same goes for drainage infrastructure. A certain amount of routine maintenance is to be expected, and much of the time, the responsibility for this falls back on the property owner. As we say, with the right to own property comes the duty to conserve.
Now what is a person to do in order to fix a drainage problem? If it involves a neighboring property, by all means, talk to your neighbor. Often times, the conversation will go better than you think, and a little communication could go a long way in solving the problem. We also encourage you to enlist a trusted contractor to get their take on a possible fix. As always, the staff at Preble SWCD is glad to help solve problems involving erosion and drainage. If you have questions, you can reach Preble SWCD at (937) 456-5159.