How to block water draining from neighbor's yard

couldb2dayMarch 12, 2006

Our lot for our new house is highest at the back and is designed to drain to the front (ditch) and drains properly. The house built behind was supposed to do the same (highest in back draining to their front ditch, but drains from the front of their house slanting back, so that most of their water drains under my fence to my backyard.The only solution I can think of is to build a raised bed across the back to block the flow of this water gushing in under my wood fence. I was thinking of flashing or gutter material, vinyl or roofing material placed down a few inches into the ground at the fence and then coming up about 4-6 inches to the bottom of the fence, then adding bags of dirt to cover the flashing and keep it pressed against the fence. Then I would need steel, brick, or some sort of front border since it would be raised above the sod. Any ideas would be appreciated.

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nativenut(z7B GA)

In my state, I believe it is illegal for a builder or homeowner to knowingly channel water onto someone else's property. Have you spoken with their builder? If they are unresponsive, think of it as a design issue and plan for the water. When we built our house, we knew erosion on our steep hillside would be an issue, so we installed a "dry waterfall" with the rock dug out from our foundation. It is amazing after a good downpour! Could you do this in your back yard? Make lemonade if your neighbor won't take back their lemons!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 8:48AM
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Maybe it was a concern about privacy that made you omit your location from your GW identity. Your location, certainly your zone, are needed for anyone to give you any advice at all.

If there is in fact water gushing under your fence, you will not be happy with the results if you try to dam the flow. First principle of engineering: water flows down hill.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 10:42AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I too would say that blocking the water is a no-win situation, and that basic fact won't vary with your location although the degree of no-win will. Water needs to be channeled; it can't simply be blocked. You'd have to be thinking something like streambeds running either side of of your house to direct the water to your front street. You could put as much as a thick concrete wall at your fence and it would ultimately fail just from the weight of the accumulated water. If you live in a zone where it freezes, then you get frost failure - the wall might literally explode.

You should check your local regulations, and see whose problem this is to actually fix, and then lean on them to have it done. You can't fix it, since the problem does not originate with you; you can only adapt to it. If that is the option you are left with, you probably need to hire a civil engineer or a water resources engineer to at least advise you, even if you do the work yourself. "Water gushing..." is not a landscaping issue.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 6:48PM
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nwnatural(zone 8 PNW)

How about working with the pooling water. You could put in a nice bog garden, a sweeping grove of Canna or Elephant Ear. If you have enough space from the houses, you could plant a Weeping Willow. Instant drama while wicking away the extra water.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 9:08PM
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cantstopgardening(Zone 4/5 WI)

If their house is relatively new, and their builder didn't comply with requirements, you might best go through the builder/developer for remediation. Of course, this means talking to the neighbors first and working with them. Most people don't want to cause problems for a neighbor, but if they don't know about an issue, they won't be doing anything about it. Keep very calm and pleasant when discussing this, (nothing you have written indicates you would be anything but genteel, that was only cautionary) as people 'get their backs up' when faced with potentially having to spend money to correct something that isn't causing them an issue.

We corrected a similiar situation on our old fixer-upper, and spent about $10,000 doing so, about ten years ago. We hired a local reputable landscape firm, who put in a swale along the side of the property, and a berm along the back of the property. That greatly reduced the water flowing into the middle of our yard, but some was still coming along the berm in the back, and around the end of the berm to get into the yard, so I wheelbarrowed in enough more clay soil to create a small 'speed bump' at that corner, which created a small spring wet spot, still on my property, but at the back, rather than the middle of my yard. Works quite well, and my sump pumps have stopped running.

The neighbors behind us weren't crazy about this, as now their water runoff stays somewhat on their property, but we consulted with the municipality on this, and did everything properly. We aren't directing our water onto their property, simply blocking their water from flowing further into our yard.

The original roughgrading work in the subdivision had the water flowing out to the front of each property, as you described was supposed to be the case for your property as well. However, some 35 years ago, when the subdivision was about five years old, several neighbors got together and hired a 'landscraper,' who buggered the whole thing up. Had the water flow been the way nature had designed, such as with a stream or natural slope to the land, we would not have been legally allowed to block the flow of water, but as it was caused by improper human design done wellafter the subdivision was built, we were allowed to correct this.

I would make this your number one concern, before building that house. If the situation isn't resolved peacefully, you will be building a house with built-in neighbor issues. :-(
Proceed carefully, cautiously, but thoroughly. I would get some advice from professionals, such as a real estate attorney. Such are the costs of building a quality home. Certainly worth it to have peacable neighbor relations, in a home you enjoy. Best of luck.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 8:41AM
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landman(z5 Central Mass.)

I would start by talking to the engineering department for your town. Grading plans for new developments are typically overseen by a municipality for just this kind of reason. The developer should be held responsible for the issue which can be very expensive to repair. If the development is still under construction the town has quite a bit of leverage to get things done to cure this kind of problem.

As for a solution...well the first would be for the neighbor/developer to take care of their own water...but if that does not work you will need to channel the water out and around the usable parts of your property and continue on down the hill.


    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 10:39AM
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A little late with a reply, but I am a civil engineer and deal with subdivision grading plans on a daily basis.

The first thing to do is call the engineering department at your city and ask them their policy on lot-to-lot drainage. If it is allowed, you have to fix the problem yourself. If it is not, then you need to get a copy of the subdivision grading plan that was done by a professional engineer and see how your neighbors and your yards are supposed to drain. This can be purchased from the city for a couple of bucks, maybe free. If the grading plan shows his yard to drain away from yours, then you have a case.

The city building inspection department is responsible for assuring that the builder retained the drainage pattern approved on the grading plan when he built the house. Changing the drainage pattern can be a major deal depending on the circumstances. You should take pictures, shown them to someone in building inspection and demand they take action. The neighbor will have to redo his entire yard and probably build a retaining wall on the back property line to raise his ground elevation to make water flow to the front of his yard.

If this is your problem only (lot to lot drainage is allowed)then you need to grade a swale (shallow ditch) from a high point in the middle of your back property line and have one run over to the right side property line and one to the left side property line and both run right out to the front.

If lot to lot drainage is allowed or it's not but they can't fix the problem for some reason, there needs to be a drainage easement granted by you and your left and right neighbors to the guy behind you all. This should be noted on the final plat of the subdivision, also obtained from engineering, if lot to lot is allowed. If it's not, then you can make them pay for the work to build the swales around your yard or whatever you want in exchange for granting them the easement.

I hope I wasn't too technical. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 10:55AM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

All that great advise about contacting your city's engineering department and building codes etc won't help the poster if she lives in a rural area or small town where zoning, building permits, and codes are the invention of the communists, the devil, or whoever is the latest bugaboo.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 12:08PM
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That is sad but true. Then you go to the County offices and complain. But it sounded like she was in a subdivision to me.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 12:43PM
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Thanks to all of you for your comments and the info. you have given me. It is a new subdivision (Louisiana) in a small town (suburb of larger city). My husband talked to the developer of the subdivision who said if it was his lot, he could do something, but it was sold to another builder, and that he could not do anything. So my husband phoned that builder and told him the problem and that we had grass sod being delivered this week. He said he would go and look at it. Saw the realtor at the house, so told her, and showed her the backyard. She said she would call the builder, also. The couple then moved in. My husband went over and spoke to them, and they said they would call their builder. Have heard nothing else from the builder, but the grass was delivered. We are expecting thunderstorms tonight and tomorrow.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 10:39PM
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Is this all something we could do on our own (going to engineering dept. of city, building inspection dept.....) or would it be something we should get an attorney to handle? Thanks for info.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 10:51PM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

Are you in the corporation of the city? Find out whose jurisdiction you are in. Talk to the city (or parrish or what ever political subdivision you are in) first on your own. Get a copy of their building regulations, subdivision regulations, or what ever they have. Ask the city engineer or building department to explain them to you and point out the relevant section. They will probably be pretty confusing. If your neighbors are indeed in violation of city code, the city should be the one to send them a letter telling them so. If that doesn't get results, or your city is a chicken (most likely will not want to get involved and say it is a civil matter), find a local attorney who deals with land and realestate and get them to write a letter. Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 7:25PM
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You should go yourself to the city departments to get the ball rolling. Get the grading plan, verify the drainage pattern it's supposed to be (not draining onto you) and get the city to force the builder of the other lot to fix the problem. The city should be on your side. It's good that you have made people aware of a problem, especially your neighbor. Only contact an attorney if your neighbor's builder refuses to do anything or the city won't help you. Involving an attorney is a last resort. However, if the builder or city balks, threatening to contact an attorney may prove effective :)

    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 8:08PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Take pictures while it's raining/gushing, assuming the weather forecast is correct...

    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 8:45PM
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I am worried about our septic system/ lines and standing water. We live in the county limits the land around us has approx. 8 acres each. Our neighbor is building a second home 25 feet from our line. He has approx. 100 loads so far of dirt dumped in front and some on the side and in the rear of his property. Is it against the law to change the water flow of the surrounding land and to cause water to back up in our yard due to him raising his land?

Here is a link that might be useful: landscape design forum

    Bookmark   September 1, 2006 at 12:17PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

>Have heard nothing else from the builder, but the grass was delivered.Maybe calling in an air strike would help. The crater left in their back yard by one of those precisely targeted 1000 lb. bombs like we were shown being used over and over during the Gulf War should be adequate to trap and contain surface runoff on their side of the fence.

If you've been paying income taxes for years don't worry about the cost, you're entitled.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2006 at 10:51PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

In other words, if you have a new question start a new thread. And don't link to the thread you're already posting in. Also, I doubt anyone here knows the laws in your area - you'll have to call your municipality.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2006 at 2:12PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Actually I was satirizing the lack of response the first poster was already starting to get from builder etc. and the general nature of this problem, how frustrated they might have been becoming. A 1000 lb. bomb would certainly get everyone's attention. So gratifying, too.

A neighbor behind us also has a mostly hidden pipe that empties onto our lot right at the fenceline. I haven't done anything about it, only noticed it during an extra rainy spell when it was gurgling loudly. Probably doesn't do much the rest of the time, might even be watering one of my trees.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2006 at 2:23PM
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spring303(z6 PA)

Wondering if Daisy10 found a solution to the problem...
I know this is very late, however I had the exact same problem with a new home in a development where my builder didn't own the lot behind us that was spilling water into our yard. We ended up solving the problem ourselves by creating a 2 foot wide trench (about 1' - 1 1/2' deep) along the perimter of the fence and filling it with stones (fist size). This now acts as a spillway for the water run off and directs the water where we dont mind it going.
Hope that helps.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 10:54AM
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loniesmom(z5 (6?) NE OH)

I think the earlier suggestion of putting in a bog garden is an absolutely superior idea and would probably require the least physical labor and financial investment of any of the possible solutions. As much as you've received some really fantastic advice other than landscape design, lawsuits between neighbors never make for long term peace in the neighborhood, regardless of the fact that its the builder and not the neighbor who screwed up, IMO.

Planting a weeping willow will take a decade or more of growth before it visibly improves the wet condition allowing healthy turf to grow in the area. One of our other neighbors tried this and after 9 years still can't grow grass because of the multiple floodings per year.

When we moved into our house six years ago we immediately noticed we had the same problem, only in reverse. The yard that got all our run off water several feet deep multiple times each year also has about six other yards that drain into it and, I think because the flood-yard is by far and away the largest, all the other neighbors basic attitude is 'so sad, too bad, MY yard's fine!' The flooding got so bad sometimes that their yard overflowed and flooded back into half of our back yard. So, we built a very large mound, about 4 feet tall (probably 200 wheelbarrows full) along that side of our fence out of very heavy rocky clay soil which had been recently dug out for the foundation of a new home. (The contractor laughed at me when I explained to him why I wanted the fill dirt for free - he said if I could move it I could have it :D) There is a steep slope at the back of the mound which goes down to soil level right at the fence (which is chain link, fortunately) and the slope is much more gradual in the front, where the water is coming from, which is how we avoid the washing-out issue. The VERY best part is that I've been able to install the most beautiful perennial garden on this crescent shaped mound that gave me over three times the planting area than I would have had if the soil had remained flat and sloping away from our house, flooding several times a year. We now retain all of our own ground water, have no need to water the grass between the house and the garden mound, have no apparent flooding in our yard ever and we eliminated the flood on his side of the fence in the same shape but twice as wide as our berm. No, there were no complaints, offers of assistance or thanks by the owners of the yard we helped, even though we discussed the problem with them and volunteered to do similar berms for them on the other sides of their yard (they refused) but WE sleep well at night knowing we 'did the right thing'.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2006 at 11:06PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I'd be concerned about a pond or bog garden made using somebody else's runoff being spoiled by pollutants, such as roof de-mossing chemicals, at some point.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2006 at 11:39PM
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In my old neighborhood, the water drained two ways: on each lot from back to front through the side yards, and as the area was slightly hilly, downhill through everyone's backyard from left to right.
Or at least once upon a time on paper.
After the gas company and cable and phone and water companies screwed up the grading in everybody's side yard, it only drained from left to right across everyone's backyard---and did so so efficiently that we didn't notice until the woman at the bottom of the hill built a raised garden along the entire fence on the left side of her back yard.
Um hmm...
PLEASE don't build a barrier along your fence to keep the water out--this will flood all your neighbors!

I did fix the problem--mine was third from the bottom of the hill--by regrading my side yards and forcing all the water from the entire street down my side yards (along hardscape paths--no erosion) to the street.
But not before my nextdoor neighbor downhill lost her AC unit to high water. We won't discuss her deck, her siding, or her garden...

I'm going to suggest that you find a way to channel the water THROUGH your yard quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 6:35PM
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