History of Oversight

Beginnings


One of the chief obstacles to agricultural expansion in the early days of the state was the presence of large areas of marshy ground. These marshy areas no only hindered farming but also created health problems such as Yellow Fever. Proper drainage was needed to provide better farms and for public health.

The first mention of drainage in Indiana statue is an Act in 1816 providing for the Highway Supervisor appointed by the County Commissioners to drain roads. This Act allowed them to enter upon lands of others if necessary to open ditches. Also provided was a $5.00 fine for filling these ditches.

Swamps & Wetlands


An Act in 1832 provided for draining swamps, ponds, marshes and other low lands in Tippecanoe, Montgomery, Clinton, and Warren Counties. This construction and repair of drains was done through the Justice of the Peace. The Act also provided for a fine for obstructing drains.

In 1848, the Indiana General Assembly sent a resolution to the U.S. Congress calling for wetlands in Jay and Adams Counties to be sold at a reduced price on the condition that owners would drain the land. The resolution also called for the forfeiture of the land if not drained by the purchaser within a reasonable period of time. 

Congress responded in 1850 with an Act doing just that for all states. In 1851, Indiana required County Surveyors to locate and designate swamp lands. The Act set up the procedures required by the Federal Act of 1850.

Drainage Associations & Rights


In 1852, an Act was passed by the Indiana Legislature regarding the construction of the levees and drains by five or more landowners forming an Association. These Associations acted much like a corporation.

An 1861 Act provided that landowners had the right to enter upon the land of others in order to deepen or maintain any natural channel, required to drain their land. 

The basis of our current Drainage Law is an Act of 1863, which provided that landowners may petition the Board of County Commissioners for drainage. The Act also provided that the cost was to be borne by the landowners within the drainage shed and those assessments created a lien on the property.

In 1867 a penalty of $1.00 per day was added for any obstruction to these drains.

Population Growth


In Indiana between 1860 and 1890, new acres were constantly being put to the plow as forests were cleared and swamps were drained. The acreage of tillable land in the State of Indiana almost doubled in the two decades after the Civil War. Towns and cities also sprang up or increased in size thanks in part to the Drainage Laws and the infrastructure they helped provide.

Current Laws


Many drainage provisions were passed between 1863 and 1965 when a major overhaul of the Drainage Laws were made. The Indiana Drainage Code compiled 40 separate Acts passed between 1803 and 1964 into one Code. The Indiana Drainage Code was recodified in 1981 with relatively minor changes and since then has undergone only minor revisions.