Water Resource District

Responsibilities & Duties (Century Code 61-16.01-09)

Water resource districts were set up as governmental units to manage the surface water within a district's political boundaries and watersheds. Specifically, a water resource district's board should support the state water management policy that upstream districts and landowners who have altered the natural flow of water must share the responsibility of proper water management with downstream landowners.

In addition, a board should encourage all landowners to retain water on the land to the maximum extent possible for sound water management. A water resource board has the power to raise money (taxes, assessments, fees, or bonds) to finance water management projects and board operations.

As part of local water management, a water resource board has the responsibility to review and approve state permits for drains within its boundaries. Water resource boards are also given the opportunity to comment on applications for construction permits for dikes and dams. These boards have the responsibility to stop illegal drainage and illegal construction of dikes and dams.

The past few wet years have heightened the interest in local drainage and diking activities. The amount of water passing through watersheds is having greater impacts to land adjacent to coulees and streams and to downstream land when compared to drier years. Because of this, the legality of some constructed drains and dikes is being questioned.

In North Dakota, a drain is legal if it has been granted a permit or if it was in place before permits were required. Important years to remember are 1957, 1975, 1981, and 1995. Water management projects constructed before July 1, 1957 do not need permits to be maintained. Between the years of 1957 and 1975, if the county had a board of drain commissioners, who oversaw drainage projects, a permit was not required while the drain board existed. Between the years of 1957 and 1981, drains constructed under the supervision of state or federal agencies are exempt from the permit requirement. And, starting in 1995, permits are needed to drain ponded sheetwater if the ponded area is greater than 80 acres.

So, if you have seen or are being impacted by allegedly unauthorized drainage, what can you do? The best place to start is with the local water resource board. If you feel a formal complaint is necessary, the water resource board or the State Engineer's Office has complaint forms. Filling out this form and turning it into the board will ensure a formal response from them.

Upon receipt of the complaint, the board will investigate and determine whether the drainage was authorized. Once the determination has been made, the board will act according to the appropriate statute.

Fortunately, North Dakota landowners are willing to work with each other for the good of the community and to promote peace and harmony within their watershed. If a water management concern should arise, visit with your water resource board. If you need help contacting your water resource board, the county auditor's office can probably help. (North Dakota Water, September 1996)