What’s With That Drainage Ditch Behind My House?

by Lou Perron

With all the rain that we’ve been having, I often watch it pour down the streets, quickly gushing down some storm grate and off to Neverland. Or sometimes I‘ll see that the water going down the grate ends up a just few feet away, flowing through my neighbor’s drainage ditch.

I often have clients who own, view or purchase properties with drainage ditches running through them, like my neighbor. It’s natural to think that since the water within them comes from other sources than just the property it runs though, that the city or county must be responsible for maintaining the ditch. Well, surprise! That’s not how it works.

Many of Durham’s neighborhoods not only have drainage ditches on private property, but also underground piping and even streams. It is a good idea to understand where it goes when stormwater flows into that grate on the street. It may be passing through your lot enroute to a stream. And when it does, you as the property owner are responsible for maintaining that structure on your land. The city is only responsible for maintaining the parts of the system in the right of way. So if a tree falls in the ditch, or it’s full of garbage and the water can’t flow, you need to deal with it.

So how do you know if there’s a stormdrain pipe running through your property? While drainage ditches may be obvious, piping may not. I have known real estate agents who discovered they had a storm drain conduit on their land when they decided to dig up their yard to put in a tomato garden.

Fortunately the Durham GIS called “GoMaps” can show you the stormwater structures around and on your lot. Once you put in your address, go to the map layer called stormwater and select the options available. In the neighborhoods with older infrastructure, just keep in mind that the GIS is not perfect and they are updating it all the time. For instance, it may show a drainage pipe on your property, but it may not be accurate as to how it runs through the land.

What happens if there’s damage to any of these conduits requiring costly repairs or even rerouting? Fortunately there is some money available in the Stormwater Utility Fund to assist the property owner. There are restrictions on which projects are eligible for this money and it doesn’t pay the full cost.

To find out more on any of this, you can go to the Durham website http://durhamnc.gov/704/DrainageFlooding-Information
For more specific information you can also contact Graham Summerson, who is a civil engineer at Public Works and specializes in Stormwater and GIS services. (graham.summerson@durhamnc.gov 919.560.4326 ext. 30287)

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