Need help with slowing down water flow in swale

MTguyApril 14, 2014

Hello Everyone. I have run into a situation in my new construction where I am having drainage problems. Not necessarily for me, but for my two neighbors. In trying to be a good neighbor I'm wondering if you have any ideas to help me out.

My property lies between two completed houses. The house to my right (off screen in the picture) was having some drainage issues on the front corner of my lot which is the back corner of their yard. They have trees planted and it is the low spot of their yard where the lawn slopes to. There is a bit of slope coming from their lawn towards mine, but I would only estimate it as 4' over Compounding the problem there is that the drainage ditch along the road there overflows it's banks and comes into both of our yards when there is a significant rain or snow melt. When the county inspectors saw the water there (possibly after being called by the neighbors) they required me to put a swale in my yard going from the front of my yard along the side and all the way to the back yard (light blue in the drawing). Not something I really wanted, but hey... life, lemons, lemonade, etc..

My plan was (in the future when money grows on trees) to make the swale into a dry creek bed with river rock and boulders. All draining to a large pond at the end of the swale (to be built later as well). The pond would probably be roughly a 20' by 30' oblong shape. Also along the swale I planned to put in a culvert and road so I could reach the far back corner of my lot where I will build a shop and vegetable garden.

The swale is in now minus any landscaping or rocks and after this springs snow melt the water was running sometimes over 8" deep all the way to the end of the swale and washing out the dirt in the neighbor to my left's tree line. The big culprit, in my opinion was that the ditch along the road was draining through my swale and not through the developers planned drainage to the north (left in the picture). You can see in the plot picture that the easement has drainage heading between two lots to the north of me. Either way, I want to be a good neighbor and try to slow down the velocity of the drainage in the swale and had a few ideas I would like to run by everyone.

First, I wonder if putting landscape fabric down and then small gravel in the bottom of the swale (larger rocks on the side and then a few boulders interspersed as well) would slow down the drainage or speed it up?

Second, If I were to put in a smaller depression/mini pond along the swale's path before a culvert and road crosses it would it slow it further?

Finally, could anyone verify that the pond as a catch basin at the end would be a good solution?

I'm hoping that by landscaping the swale now, unfortunately as an unexpected expense, and following it up with a call to the developer and county regarding the ditch flowing through my yard and not their designed location will be enough to fix it.

Any thoughts on this and also how to landscape/plant along the swale would be appreciated.

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Here is a picture of the Plot for more information

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 1:37PM
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I considered not responding to this thread. What I have to say is not an answer to the question or what the OP wants to hear. Still, he may benefit and other readers can learn from the mistakes made.

When building a new home, it's best to complete a grading and drainage plan before starting construction. There is a minor potential for flooding for this lot (flood zone X) that should be assessed and a height of foundation selected to ensure protection. If it was my house the grade at the foundation would be a few inches higher than the highest point in James Drive to the south. With luck, that is the case.

When doing grading, it's a good idea to make a base property drawing that documents the grading before construction begins. Drainage law varies from state to state. Most states follow some modified version of the Civil Law of Drainage. It is a violation to block the natural flow of water from a higher property from entering your property, and carries liability for all damage for doing so. In this case, after construction started, water pooled on Lot 7, submerging newly planted trees. Whether the pooling was caused by construction or an insufficient capacity of the county's road ditch may be in question, but without a documentation of the original grades the poster is not in a good position to defend against a claim from the Lot 7 owner. The poster may have to regrade to accommodate the drainage of Lot 7 and pay for the replacement of any of the trees that die.

While I think it was right of the county to tell poster to regrade such that Lot 7 drainage was not blocked from getting to the road ditch, I fail to see how the county has authority to require the swale MTguy constructed across his property. Moreover, the swale also violates the Civil Law of Drainage by diverting water to flow onto a lower property (Lot 5) in a place different from historical flows. The lower owner has a legal cause of action that the flows be stopped and all damage be compensated.

A consolation with an attorney might be in order. I'm sorry you didn't find your way to this forum earlier.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 5:22PM
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So, drainage from lot 7 was ponding on both lot 7 and your lot? and the answer was for you to mitigate, not the owners of lot 7? Further, the mitigation required simply moved the water to your back yard, and then where was it supposed to go? No place for it to go, so now it is ending up on lot 5?

I know nothing about laws or engineering, I freely confess, but this all seems totally illogical to me. Seems it was the problem of the developer and county engineer to fix. How can it be okay for the roadside drainage to regularly flood your property? or the drainage from your neighbor's lot, for that matter, for if it is wrong for your drainage to end up on lot 5, isn't it equally wrong for 7's drainage to end up on yours? Why didn't 7 build a drain to the ditch?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 6:01PM
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Thank you both for responding. pls8xx I definitely appreciate your thoughtful and informative post and the time you obviously put into it. In re-reading my post I don't think I did a good job of describing that a majority (I would estimate around 80+%) of the water going through the swale is from the road ditch overflowing and creating a channel. There is drainage coming from lot 7 that would settle on the SW corner of my lot and NW of lot 7. I don't mind a little mud in the corner of my lot during the wettest time of the year.

If the road ditch wasn't overflowing I don't think I would even have running water in the swale but rather just pooling.

On option it would seem to me is to build up the edge of the drainage ditch to ensure that the water doesn't flow over the edge and continues further down the ditch to the drainage easement.

To help out lot 7 a bit more I could lower the grade in the corner of my lot and make a rain garden, but I'm afraid that will encourage the road ditch to further channel water into my property.

For additional information, all lots here are in flood zone x and lot 5 is lower than lot 8 (mine).

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 6:12PM
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MTguy, what I'm saying is that you may not have caused the water to pool on the corner of Lot 7, but you have no way to prove that at this point in time. You need to lower the grade along the property line with Lot 7 so that the pooled water can flow onto your lot and then to the road ditch.

Water in the road ditch is on the county road right-of-way and is the responsibility of the county, not you. I see no obligation for you to allow the road water to cross your property. By digging the swale you opened yourself up to a lawsuit from Lot 5; one that you will likely lose.

If the county approved an inadequate plan for drainage, it's a problem for the county and the developer to work out by regrading / enlarging the road ditch and or constructing a drainage ditch through the drainage easement between Lots 4 and 5.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 7:02PM
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And one more thing ....

In the original post you said " When the county inspectors saw the water there (possibly after being called by the neighbors) they required me to put a swale in my yard going from the front of my yard along the side and all the way to the back yard (light blue in the drawing)."

You will have to post a copy where the county required that swale before I'll believe they did so in writing. I suggest you look those county inspectors up. Tell them the Lot 5 owner is complaining and you want the county to give you something in writing where they requested you build the swale. Don't hold your breath waiting, it won't happen. If there are consequences for that swale the county will deny any involvement whatsoever.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 8:00PM
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It's funny that you mentioned that the county would deny it. That's exactly what they did when Lot 5's owner called them. It took a second call from Lot 5's owner before the county "remembered" them requiring it. Then they decided that since they did not design the swale they didn't have any way to solve the problem. I'm fortunate in that neither neighbor are looking to litigate (at least that's what they have said) and want to work together to come up with a plan that works for all of us.

The pooling on lot 7 and mine would have to go uphill to enter the ditch and would have before any dirtwork was even done there. Fortunately, I have pictures (somewhere on my phone) of the pooling before any dirt was disturbed if that comes up.

It's all still a work in progress which is why I was hoping to find a landscaping solution or combination of solutions. Hopefully, we'll all be one happy neighborhood when it is all said and done. I also think that the developer is already having to fix some other issues with drainage in the area, so that may be a small amount of ammo for me should I need it. Thanks again for your advice.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 9:20PM
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Does anyone have any ideas about whether or not my ideas for slowing the running water down would work?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 9:25PM
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Speaking from experience in both landscaping and the political world related to planning boards/construction approvals/contractors, SMTguy, it sounds as though you are on the receiving end of "the good 'ol boys run-a-round." Do not spend another penny on this project until....

1. You and your neighbors request a meeting with whomever is in charge; county manager or town supervisor or mayor, etc.

2, Also, request that the town engineer, the town building supervisor, the planning board chairman, the contractor and the owner of the business doing the land moving/grading be present at the meeting.

3. Further, request that the town engineer review the original approved drainage plan with you and your neighbors and give you the opportunity to discuss the current problems and explain that you are seeking relief.

If you are able to arrange such a meeting...Congratulations!
If no action is taken by your administration to arrange such a meeting then it is time to talk with your attorney.

This is not your problem. It is the result of poor planning and poor execution during the land clearing stage. Hopefully the above mentioned group will be able to provide a solution satisfactory to all.


    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 1:28PM
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