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Doing the job right

Avoid shortcuts when it comes to legal outlets.

November 8, 2016  By Sid Vander Veen

Tile drainage is accused of increasing downstream peak flows, causing flooding, moving soil and sediment and making it easy for nutrients to move. Imagine a tile drainage system with no surface inlets. Research has shown it does not increase downstream peak flows; flooding is not increased. The existence of tile drainage encourages infiltration, which reduces overland flow. The reduced overland flow reduces the amount of sediment (topsoil) movement. Recent research suggests there is less phosphorus movement through the tile.

So how does tile drainage get this negative reputation? When surface inlets are added to the tile drainage system, they potentially cause increased peak flows, sediment movement from the surface into the tile drainage system and then into the outlet and movement of nutrients that can attach to soil particles.

In some situations, surface inlets are a necessary component of a tile drainage system, but not in all situations. Staff at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) continue to receive complaints about tile drainage systems installed by contractors without a sufficient outlet. After sharing the common law, I also note licensed tile drainage contractors are aware of the need to outlet into locations that don’t do damage to others. I suggest consulting a lawyer to examine their options – licensed contractors should know better.

With the pressure of too much work and not enough time, there may be a temptation to take shortcuts. We have heard about some drainage systems being directed to questionable outlets. The following are not legal outlets:


Roadside ditches: You can only use roadside ditches as an outlet if permission is granted by the road authority. If permission is granted, it is recommended to secure it in writing.

Private ditches: Private ditches located on neighboring properties are private infrastructure and no one has the right to connect a tile drainage system into them or perform work on the ditch unless permission is given. If your client indicates the neighbor has granted permission, confirm this with the neighbor and ensure permission is in writing. Many contractors have found themselves in the middle of disputes because of differing expectations. If work needs to be done on the neighboring property, make sure all parties are clear on cost-sharing, as well as the extent of work and the potential disruption of land.

Municipal drains: Municipal drains have a defined watershed; the lands within that watershed have paid for the construction and management of that drain and only these lands have the right to connect to the municipal drain. If you are installing tile drainage on a property, it is possible only a portion of that property has the legal right to connect into that drain. Check with the local drainage superintendent before undertaking the work. If there is a section of land outside the limits of the watershed, you must ask for permission to connect those lands to the drain.

Wetland or low area: Sometimes it’s tempting to outlet a tile drainage system into a wetland area, particularly if it is located on your client’s property. However, before doing so, examine the area to determine if the outletting of the tile drainage system could have any impact on other property owners. If it could, don’t install the outlet without first acquiring permission.

If a property owner is unable to secure an outlet, that owner has the right to petition their municipality under the Drainage Act for an outlet. Although it takes longer to get the outlet using the Drainage Act, when it is done, you can have confidence that the tile drainage work you perform will not result in legal action. If you still decide to take shortcuts on legal outlets, remember that the courts consider the tile drainage contractor to be an expert. Be sure to check out the liability risk to you and your business.

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