You know the saying “everything flows downhill”? Well in a way that saying summarizes drainage law in Oregon. The description below is from the State of Oregon’s web site. It is included here because we regularly get questions about this issue from rural landowners. This information is not legal advice and is not a substitute for legal counsel.
Oregon drainage law, which originates from common law or court-made law, has developed without legislative action, and it is embodied in the decisions of the courts. Therefore, there are no Oregon Revised Statues to cite pertaining to Oregon drainage law.
Oregon has adopted the civil law doctrine of drainage. Under this doctrine, adjoining landowners are entitled to have the normal course of natural drainage maintained. The lower owner must accept water that naturally comes to his land from above, but he is entitled not to have the normal drainage changed or substantially increased. The lower landowner may not obstruct the runoff from the upper land if the upper landowner is properly discharging the water.
For a landowner to drain water onto lands of another in the State of Oregon, one of two conditions must be satisfied initially:
- the lands must contain a natural drainage course; or,
- the landowner must have acquired the right of drainage supported by consideration (i.e., a purchased drainage easement).
In addition, because Oregon has adopted the civil law doctrine of drainage, the following three basic elements must be followed:
- A landowner may not divert water onto adjoining land that would not otherwise have flowed there. “Divert water” includes but is not necessarily limited to:
- water diverted from one drainage area to another; and
- water collected and discharged which normally would infiltrate into the ground, pond, and/or evaporate.
- The upper landowner may not change the place where the water flows onto the lower owner’s land. (Most of the diversions not in compliance with this element result from grading and paving work and/or improvements to water collection systems.)
- The upper landowner may not accumulate a large quantity of water, then release it, greatly accelerating the flow onto the lower owner’s land. This does not mean that the upper landowner cannot accelerate the flow of water at all; experience has found the drainage to be improper only when the acceleration and concentration of water were substantially increased.
The Sauvie Island Drainage District is the only drainage district in rural Multnomah County. They maintain the levee system to protect the island from floods and other high water events; maintain a series of ditches and pumps for adequate drainage and irrigation needs; coordinate with landowners and other agencies for water usage, bank stability, and other issues; and prepare for and coordinate emergency response efforts in flood situations in cooperation with other agencies and the community.