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Planning and Development - Division of Water Resources

Drainage Concerns

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The Water Resources division can provide general assistance to interested parties that have questions regarding drainage or are seeking guidance to address an ongoing drainage problem. 

The County may have information that could assist you in investigating the drainage concern:   

  • Covenants or Bylaws of your Homeowner's Association (contact the County Recorder's office for a copy)
  • Plat of Subdivision (contact the County Recorder's office for a copy)
  • Plat of Survey (visit the Planning & Development Department's Electronic Records Search webpage, contact the P&D office or the County Recorder's office for a copy)
  • Engineering Plans/Past Permits (visit the Planning & Development Department's Electronic Records Search webpage or contact the P&D office for a copy - if available)

Ditch/Stream/Creek/Pond Maintenance

The maintenance of streams, creeks, ponds, detention basins, ditches, swales or other bodies of water is typically the responsibility of the property owner, whether or not it is within an easement. Some subdivisions were created with drainage or conservation easements over the swale, creek, pond or basin. The easement may describe who is responsible, possibly the Homeowner’s Association. If no responsibility is mentioned, the property owner is ultimately accountable for maintenance of the area within their property. Easements are sometimes granted to allow authority to enter a property, but does not transfer the property owner’s obligation to maintain the area.

Although a Homeowner's Association or property owner may choose to forgo maintenance, the County cannot force or require maintenance of the area.  The County cannot enforce any regulations outside of the county adopted codes and ordinances (McHenry County Stormwater Management Ordinance, IL Building Code, IL Residential Code, Unified Development Ordinance). the SMO is a development-based ordinance. If no current Regulated Stormwater Development is occurring, the activity may not be regulated by our department.

If a beaver dam or log jam is backing up water, the first step is to determine whose property the blockage is located on and inform the property owner.

If banks are eroding or the channel needs to be cleaned of vegetation or sediment, the property owner should contact our office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before attempting any work to verify if a permit is required or not. Material including brush, debris, rocks, soil, asphalt grindings or broken concrete should NEVER be placed in a stream or creek without prior approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or McHenry County.

Sump Pump Discharge

If your sump pump runs continuously, even during dry weather, there may be a problem with a high groundwater table.

If you have experienced water in your basement, but only during a storm event, your sump pump may have malfunctioned or there may be an issue with the way it was installed. Verify that your pump discharge has a proper air gap. Check the power supply to the pump. Confirm that the pump is working and the float is activating correctly.

If your neighbor’s sump pump runs constantly onto your property:   

  • Per Building Code, the discharge line shall be a minimum of 5' from the property line. 
  • Talk to them regarding relocating the discharge point to a nearby storm sewer.
  • If there is no piped system to connect to, it may be possible to direct the discharge to a dry well. If a dry well is to be installed, proper setbacks from wells and septic systems should be adhered to.
  • Piping sump pump discharge directly to ditches, creeks or swales is discouraged and only should be considered as a last resort.
  • A constant flow of water into ditches can keep the area saturated preventing homeowners from cutting the grass in the ditch and also can increase the risk of severe erosion, all of which will create bigger problems for the neighbors and the road rights-of-way.

Depending upon the scope and severity of the situation, we may be able to provide general assistance and evaluate the problem if there is an enforceable action.

Illinois Drainage Law

Property owners should consult their attorney for legal advice in matters involving Illinois Drainage Law. McHenry County Department of Planning & Development is not able to provide legal advice nor does the department enforce Illinois Drainage Law.

Maintenance activities may be exempt from the McHenry County Stormwater Management Ordinance but may have to meet rules or restrictions under Illinois Drainage Law. Please consult an attorney regarding any questions on maintenance activities. Some development activities allowed under Illinois Drainage Law may still require local, state or federal permits. Please consult our office for further clarification on specific projects.

The most basic principle of Illinois Drainage is that landowners are responsible for the drainage that occurs on their property and that landowners must accept surface water flowing naturally from higher ground. Additionally, landowners must accept whatever advantages or inconveniences of drainage nature places upon their land. What these advantages or inconveniences are ultimately depends on the level of one’s property in relation to the land around it.

One of the most important rules of Illinois Drainage Law is that the owners of lower ground, known as a "servient tenement," are bound to receive surface water that naturally flows onto it from higher ground, known as the "dominant tenement." This rule means that owners of farms or lands that are lower than adjoining lands must take the water that flows through natural depressions onto their land. Likewise, unless a community has adopted a system of artificial drainage, owners of lots that are lower than adjoining lots must receive the water.

Summary of the Rules of Natural Drainage

Under Illinois Drainage Law, private landowners have certain rights to improve the drainage on their land.  They can:   

  • Widen, deepen, and clean natural depressions that carry their surface water.
  • Drain ponds or standing water in the direction of their overflow.
  • Tile their property to expedite the flow of water so long as they do not unreasonably increase the flow, change the point of entry on lower land, bring in water from another watershed, or connect their tile to the tile of other owners without consent.
  • Construct grass waterways, check dams, terraces, or other soil-conservation structures, so long as their drainage waters still come within the rules of natural drainage.

As you determine the scope of your project, please contact the Department of Planning & Development to confirm if a Stormwater Management Permit is required or if the activity is exempt. Even though you may be able to complete the improvement by right under Illinois Drainage Law, a local, state or federal permit may still be required for the improvement.

Because of the effect on surrounding lands, land owners must not:

  • Dam or obstruct a natural channel so that the flow of surface water from higher land is retarded or so that the channel is shifted.
  • Divert water to lands that do not naturally receive this drainage.
  • Change the point of entry of surface water on lower land.
  • Bring in water from another watershed that would not have flowed across lower land in a state of nature.
  • Pollute any waters that pass from their land through the property of others—whether surface or underground waters, streams, or diffused waters.
  • Connect their own tile with another owner’s tile lines or with highway tile lines without consent.
  • Dam up or impound large bodies of water that escape and cause serious damage to lower lands owned by others, even though such waters may escape through natural channels.
  • Accelerate the flow of water unreasonably, or with malicious intent to the material damage of lower land owned by others, even though the flow is accelerated through natural channels.

Public highway authorities have the same rights and duties as private owners. They may, in addition, change the natural drainage when the change is necessary and in the public interest and when compensation is made for any taken or damaged property.

For more detailed information describing Illinois Drainage Law, a document is available here.

The complete Illinois Compiled Statute regarding Illinois Drainage Law is available at the following link: Illinois Drainage Law.