Kane County Facilities, Development and Environmental Resources

Environmental Resources
Water Resources Division - Local Drainage Assistance

Illinois Drainage Law

Property owners should consult their attorney for legal advice in matters involving Illinois Drainage Law. Kane County Water Resources is not able to provide legal advice.

 

What is Illinois Drainage Law?

The most basic principle of Illinois Drainage is that landowners are responsible for the drainage that occurs on their property and that landowners must accept surface water flowing naturally from higher ground. Additionally, landowners must accept whatever advantages or inconveniences of drainage nature places upon their land. What these advantages or inconveniences are ultimately depends on the level of one’s property in relation to the land around it.

One of the most important rules of Illinois drainage law is that the owners of lower ground, known as a "servient tenement," are bound to receive surface water that naturally flows onto it from higher ground, known as the "dominant tenement." This rule means that owners of farms or lands that are lower than adjoining lands must take the water that flows through natural depressions onto their land. Likewise, unless a city has adopted a system of artificial drainage, owners of lots that are lower than adjoining lots must receive the water.

Summary of the rules of natural drainage

Under Illinois law, private landowners have certain rights to improve the drainage on their land.

They can:

  • Widen, deepen, and clean natural depressions that carry their surface water;
  • Drain ponds or standing water in the direction of their overflow;
  • Tile their property to expedite the flow of water so long as they do not unreasonably increase the flow, change the point of entry on lower land, bring in water from another watershed, or connect their tile to the tile of other owners without consent;
  • Construct grass waterways, check dams, terraces, or other soil-conservation structures, so long as their drainage waters still come within the rules of natural drainage.

Because of the effect on surrounding lands, landowners must not:

  • Dam or obstruct a natural channel so that the flow of surface water from higher land is retarded or so that the channel is shifted;
  • Divert water to lands that do not naturally receive this drainage;
  • Change the point of entry of surface water on lower land;
  • Bring in water from another watershed that would not have flowed across lower land in a state of nature;
  • Pollute any waters that pass from their land through the property of others—whether surface or underground waters, streams, or diffused waters;
  • Connect their own tile with another owner’s tile lines or with highway tile lines without consent;
  • Dam up or impound large bodies of water that escape and cause serious damage to lower lands owned by others, even though such waters may escape through natural channels; or
  • Accelerate the flow of water unreasonably, or with malicious intent to the material damage of lower land owned by others, even though the flow is accelerated through natural channels.

Public highway authorities have the same rights and duties as private owners. They may, in addition, change the natural drainage when the change is necessary and in the public interest and when compensation is made for any taken or damaged property.

For more detailed information describing Illinois Drainage Law, an excellent document is available at the following link: http://www.farmdoc.illinois.edu/legal/pdfs/drainage_law1.pdf.

The complete Illinois Compiled Statute regarding Drainage Law is available at the following link: Illinois Drainage Law.