A trench or ditch to convey water from wet land; a channel through which water may flow off. The word has no technical legal meaning. Any hollow space in the ground, natural or artificial, where water is collected and passes off, is a ditch or drain.
Also, sometimes, the EASEMENT or servitude (acquired by grant or prescription) that consists of the right to drain water through another's land.
A number of states have drainage statutes in order to protect the welfare of the public. Such statutes provide for the construction of drains in areas that are swampy, marshy, or overflowed past their natural boundaries. Also contained in drainage statutes are provisions that regulate the creation and organization of drainage districts. The state legislature has the discretion to decide which lands will be included within a particular drainage district. For example, such a district might include territory of a city or village or property in two or more counties.
The specific plan for the construction of a drain is within the discretion of local authorities as modified by limitations or restrictions set forth by state drainage statutes. Only land that will be benefited through drainage improvements should properly be included within a drainage district.
In certain instances, liability has been extended to drainage districts that have failed to maintain existing drains. In order to remedy this situation, in some cases, landowners are given a certain portion of a drain to clean out and maintain in proper repair. Regardless of whether or not a landowner is specifically given the responsibility for maintenance, a landowner may only close or obstruct a drain with his or her neighbors' consent. If the land of an individual is injured because a public drain is being obstructed by a neighbor, then the person can bring suit for the damage resulting therefrom.
Subject to limitations imposed by the U.S. Constitution, a state legislature has the power to authorize drainage districts to prescribe special assessments to cover the cost of drainage improvements. Generally, only those lands included within a particular district are subject to such assessment. In certain states, school lands are exempted from assessments that drainage districts levy. Assessment review boards frequently entertain objections to drainage assessments; however, if no such board exists, assessments are subject to judicial reviews in the courts. A property owner can, therefore, go to court to challenge what he or she believes to be an unjust drainage assessment against his or her land.