Obstructions or changes to existing drainage systems, erosion, and development projects routinely interfere with proper surface water drainage, especially in rural areas without stormwater sewer systems. To “keep the water moving,” Ohio’s petition ditch laws, codified at Ohio Revised Code Sections 305, 940, 6131, 6133, and 6137, permit any landowner or public body who will benefit from improved drainage works to file a petition with the governing county commissioner to initiate the steps to finance, construct and maintain the improvement.
However, Ohio’s petition ditch laws date back to the 1850s, and while updates have been made, technology and modern practices have resulted in a cumbersome and ambiguous process. On March 24, 2021, after a seven-year effort by the Ohio Drainage Law Task Force, Ohio House Bill 340 went into effect to modernize the petition ditch procedure. Key updates include:
- Permitting the use of technology, such as digital maps, videography or photographs via drone footage for the petition viewing process, rather than viewing the drainage sites in person.
- Providing uniform timeframes, deadlines, notices, and hearings and appeal procedures for all petitions.
- Unifying consideration factors for petition approval, and supplying additional guidance factors.
- Increasing the minimum width of the required sod or seeded strip along the drainage route from 4 feet to 10 feet to improve erosion and sediment control and conservation efforts.
- Removing the entire amount of sod or seeded strips from the taxable value of property, not only land in excess of four feet.
- Clarifying that the lead county in a multi-county petition is the county in which a majority of the initial length of the proposed improvement exists, and assigning the petition responsibilities to officials in the lead county.
- Increasing the cost repair cap from $4,000 to $24,000 to accommodate current market pricing, and permitting payment of repair assessments in 10 semiannual installments rather than four to provide payment flexibility.
The updates create a more streamlined and less expensive process to the benefit of landowners, public authorities, developers, professional engineers, surveyors, drainage contractors, tile manufacturers, and essentially anyone involved in surface drainage design, installation, and repairs.