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Land drains or watercourses include all rivers, streams, ditches, cuts, culverts (piped sections), dykes, sluices and passages through which water flows.

Responsibility for watercourses rests with property and landowners with watercourses crossing or abutting their land. Where a watercourse is between property boundaries, each owner is jointly responsible.

The Council is able to offer advice about problems associated with land drainage, including ditches, streams, rivers and other watercourses. It is the land owners responsibility (upon whose land the watercourse is located) to carry out maintenance work. Works to watercourses will often require the consent of the Environment Agency.

Land Drainage Responsibilities

Land Drainage is a complex area of responsibility, but in short a landowner is responsible for the drainage of their land. By law a person owning lower-level land has to accept natural land drainage water (that is, spring water, ground water or surface water run-off) from adjacent land at a higher level. This doesn't apply where the owner of the adjacent land has carried out "improvements" such that the run-off from the land isn't "natural" - for example if the entire back garden has been paved over. 'Natural' runoff does not include water from gutter down-pipes.

Highway water run-off

The riparian owner of any ditches alongside roads is normally the adjoining landowner, as the highway boundary invariably lies along the top of the bank closest to the road. Thus, although the road may drain into the ditch, the landowner is responsible for maintaining it.
However, if the Council, the highway authority, have piped the ditch under their highway powers, they become responsible for its maintenance. Likewise, any pipe beneath the highway is the responsibility of the Council. When the condition of a ditch is causing flooding on a highway it will be the Council that takes action under the Land Drainage Act.

Who enforces the maintenance of a watercourse?

The Council can serve notice and carry out works if ditches have become blocked resulting in a flood risk or health hazard. These powers are contained in the Land Drainage Acts 1991 and 1994, and Sections 259-265 of the Public Health Act 1936, but are not instantaneous - the process between first notification of a problem and serving a notice can take some months, and further stages are required if the landowner defaults on the notice.

The costs involved in carrying out any such works, plus the administration costs associated with serving notice, are passed on to the landowners.

If this is ignored, the Council concerned may carry out the necessary work itself and then recharge the person responsible for the full cost incurred. The person responsible may also be prosecuted for nuisance under the Public Health Act 1936.


If you propose to discharge surface water from a new building or development into an existing watercourse you may be required to make improvements downstream (to enable the watercourse to deal with any increased flow) or to provide storage to control the rate of flow from the site. Please contact Planning Services for advice and guidance.

What do I do if I'm being flooded?

The Council can help resolve flooding problems. Please report any incidents or potential incidents to us using the contact details below.


Land drainage legislation can be found in the Land Drainage Act 1991 and in the local Land Drainage Byelaws. The council has no responsibilities for land drainage, except when it is the landowner. We only have powers to act in certain circumstances, to mitigate the effects of flooding.

If a landowner fails to carry out necessary maintenance on an ordinary watercourse then we can use powers under the Land Drainage Act to serve notice requiring them to undertake the necessary works. Failure to comply with such a notice may result in the council undertaking the work and recharging the owner the costs of doing so. We prefer not to take formal action and for landowners to maintain watercourses voluntarily.

The council's powers do not extend to main rivers and if similar problems occur on these then the Environment Agency would have to take any action deemed necessary.

Further Information

For further information, please contact us using the details below.

Useful Links

External Links

Contact Details

  • Name Civil Engineering, Environmental Management
  • Address Directorate of the Urban Environment, Lister Road Depot, Lister Road, Dudley, West Midlands, DY2 8JW
  • Opening Hours Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm, Please note that the offices are closed at weekends and Bank Holidays