Benton County Public Drainage Ditches
Minnesota has long been recognized for its abundant and important water resources— A state that is home to more than 10,000 lakes, the headwaters of three major river basins (Mississippi River, Red River of the North, and the Great Lakes), world class fisheries, and a sizable portion of the prairie pothole region of the Midwest. Minnesotans value these water resources. Over the years, Minnesota has reinforced these values through development of public waters and wetland conservation laws, conservation programs, and comprehensive water planning and implementation at the local and state levels, in coordination with federal laws and programs.
Water has also provided challenges from the early days of statehood. Much of the glaciated prairie areas of Minnesota, as well as the areas transitional to forest lands, included wetlands and other poorly drained lands interspersed with drier uplands. The first state drainage act was passed in 1858, the same year that Minnesota became a state. The primary purposes of the act and subsequent state drainage law were to enable joint, private drainage projects across private ownership and governmental boundaries to make land more productive for agriculture, to enable and protect roadways, to protect public health from stagnant waters, and to promote commerce (King, 1980). Over the years, Minnesota drainage law has retained these purposes, while adding provisions with regard to protection of public waters and, more recently, wetlands, as well as consideration criteria for environmental and natural resource protection. Minnesota drainage law (aka “drainage code”) is currently contained in Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 103E Drainage.
State drainage law initially authorized drainage corporations of multiple landowners, with drainage plans filed at the registrar of the applicable county(ies). Townships could serve as public drainage authorities at one time. County boards of commissioners and joint county boards have served as drainage authorities since the 1870s. Over the years, drainage authorities have also included an 8-county commission in the Red River Basin, a State Drainage Commission, district courts, drainage and conservancy districts, a State Drainage Commissioner, the Division of Drainage and Waters in the Department of Conservation (precursor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) and, since 1959, watershed district boards of managers (King, 1980). Current Chapter 103E drainage authorities in Minnesota are county, joint county or watershed district boards. These public drainage authorities are responsible for administering Chapter 103E drainage systems under their jurisdiction in accordance with all applicable current law. Minnesota’s various Chapter 103E drainage system identifiers reflect the different entities that have had drainage authority over the years, including: town ditches, county ditches, state ditches, judicial ditches and watershed district project ditches, all of which can involve open ditches and/or subsurface tile systems. Drainage system identifiers also include laterals or branches of drainage systems.
Minnesota drainage law is substantially prescriptive and does not include associated rules. State courts have found that drainage authorities must follow drainage law carefully. Chapter 2 of this manual includes numerous references to pertinent case law that helps clarify interpretation, limits, and some potential unsettled aspects of the drainage code. Drainage authorities and their key advisors (public and private attorneys, county and private engineers, county auditors, viewers and inspectors) are responsible to administer Chapter 103E drainage systems in accordance with all applicable law. This manual cannot change the law. Chapter 103E drainage law has been updated several times in recent years by the Legislature and Governor-based on consensus recommendations of the stakeholder Drainage Work Group facilitated by BWSR in accordance with Minnesota Statutes Section 103B.101, Subdivision 13.