Award Drains

This eReference tool is not a substitute for specialized legal advice. Always consult a lawyer before implementing any drainage changes to your property or operations or considering any legal action.

Award drains were created under the Ditches and Water Courses Act and were so named because the work of construction was "awarded" to persons along the ditch. Ditches were constructed for nearly a century under this Act. There are a great many in Ontario. The act was repealed June 1, 1963.

What is an award drain?

Physically, an award drain may look like any other drain. It can be a ditch or a pipe of some type.

Award drains have a different legal status than other drains – they were built under the authority of the Ditches and Watercourses Act. Under this Act, a person "requisitioned" the municipality for a drain, and an engineer – appointed by municipal council – investigated the drainage problem. If the engineer found that a ditch or pipe was required, a report was written to define a solution to the drainage problem. The responsibility for construction or maintenance of the drain was then assigned or "awarded" to each property owner directly involved.

Who is responsible for maintaining an award drain?

The property owners assigned or awarded sections of the drain are responsible for the maintenance of an award drain. Unlike municipal drains, the local municipality is not responsible for maintaining award drains, has no authority to enter onto land to perform the work and no means to recover cost.

Although the Ditches and Watercourses Act has been repealed, the responsibility for maintenance of award drains continues through subsection 3(18) of the Drainage Act which states:

Every ditch constructed under The Ditches and Watercourses Act, being chapter 109 of the Revised Statutes of Ontario, 1960, shall be maintained in accordance with the award of the engineer providing for such maintenance until such ditch is brought under the provisions of this Act by petition under section 4.

So, if you have an award drain on your property, you are likely responsible for maintaining at least a portion of that drain. Before maintaining the drain, contact the local conservation authority and Ministry of Natural Resources to find out what other approvals may be needed to carry out the work.

How do I find out if I have an award drain on my property?

The Ditches and Watercourses Act required a copy of the engineer's report for the award drain be given to each property owner involved with the drain, and a copy filed with the municipality. The most recent award drain is about 50 years old, and municipal staff has changed, offices may have moved and municipalities may have amalgamated. Old records may have been lost or destroyed, making it very difficult to locate the engineer's award drain report. Here are some suggestions for where to look:

  • check with the municipality;
  • check with your neighbours, particularly with families who have lived in the area for a long period of time;
  • check with the local historical society or municipal archives;
  • check with the engineering firm that produced the report. If the engineering firm that produced the report is no longer in business, their records may have been passed to a current engineering firm – see if you can find the name of the engineering firm that currently holds these records.

Everyone refers to this ditch as an award drain, but I can't find a copy of the engineer's report. What should I do?

Without a copy of the engineer's report, there is no proof it is an award drain and the responsibilities for maintenance can not be enforced.

In the absence of an engineer's report for the award drain, you may consider petitioning your municipal council under the Drainage Act to make it a municipal drain.

Can new award drains be constructed today?

No. Since the Ditches and Watercourses Act has been repealed, no new award drains can be constructed.

Can I get an award drain changed to a municipal drain?

To change an award drain to a municipal drain, the involved property owner(s) must petition their municipality. For more information on this process, check out the municipal drain page.

What are the benefits to me as a landowner to get an award drain changed to a municipal drain?

There may be significant benefits to having an award drain made into a municipal drain.

  • During the development of the municipal drain, the property owner with the award drain may be eligible for an allowance for a drain already constructed;
  • The drain becomes municipal infrastructure, and the municipality is responsible for future maintenance and repair work;
  • The municipality is responsible for enforcement if someone blocks or damages a municipal drain, or if they refuse to allow work to be performed on their property;
  • A cost-sharing arrangement for any work performed on a municipal drain is set in place by a bylaw;
  • By taking responsibility for any maintenance and repair work, the municipality is also responsible for obtaining any permits or approvals;
  • The share of drain maintenance or repair work that is levied on agricultural land may be eligible for grants.

I have a copy of the engineer's report on the award drain and I don't feel it needs to be changed to a municipal drain. But, how do I ensure my neighbour maintains the section of the award drain they are responsible for?

To initiate maintenance under the awarded drain, one property owner gives another property owner written notice that maintenance is required. If the property owner does not fulfill their responsibilities, there are at least several options to consider:

  • initiate a civil lawsuit for damages based on the landowner's non-compliance with an agreement;
  • initiate an appeal to the referee under subsections 3(18) and paragraph 106(1)(c) of the Drainage Act;
  • petition under the Drainage Act to have the award drain made into a municipal drain.

Additional resources

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300