What is Land Drainage?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Land drainage allows water to flow freely from land. There are a number of different forms of land drainage, ranging from natural drainage found in many regions of the world to artificial drainage installed specifically to deal with drainage issues or to address land use concerns. Land drainage is an important part of the water cycle, and it can have a variety of implications.

A drainage grate is a grate that covers the entrance to a ground level sewer line, which allows water to enter the sewer.
A drainage grate is a grate that covers the entrance to a ground level sewer line, which allows water to enter the sewer.

People often refer to drainage when they are discussing land which is being used by humans. Land drainage is usually critical for human use, because well-drained land is necessary for construction. If land is soggy, structures may not stay stable, and poor drainage can also contribute to problems with septic systems and accessibility. For example, a walkway which continually puddles in the winter months would be an accessibility problem. Poor drainage may also lead to problems with gardening and agricultural use.

Ditches may be dug to hold excess water on a piece of land.
Ditches may be dug to hold excess water on a piece of land.

Some land drainage options which can be used to improve drainage include the installation of trenches and French drains to gather water and route it to another area. On the more extreme end of things, pumping can be used to lift water out of an area of low-lying land. Parts of the Netherlands, for example, rely on pumping to make usable land because people have settled on reclaimed land which was once swampy or partially under water.

Drainage is a common issue addressed when a site is inspected prior to prospective development. Some signs that drainage could be a problem include low-lying ground, standing water, or signs that standing water is sometimes present, such as algae stains. For example, someone inspecting a home site might note that the site is lower than the road, which would suggest that water probably streams off the road and into the land during the rainy season. People may also be required to conduct soil percolation tests to learn more about the drainage and per4colation conditions on a set piece of land.

Humans have come up with a variety of ways to compensate for poor drainage. At times, this becomes problematic. Human settlements in low lying areas, for example, are prone to flooding in serious storms. As a result, a variety of measures must be used to prevent flooding, such as levees, and when these measures fail, the results can be devastating and costly. The practice of reclaiming marshy land has also become controversial for environmental reasons, as people express concern about the integrity of the natural environment.

Poorly maintained drainage areas can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Poorly maintained drainage areas can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My uncle has his own excavating business and he has seen all kinds of problems from improper drainage.

When we built our house in the country we had him dig the place where our septic system would go. I wanted to be sure this was done right and by someone I could trust.

I felt comfortable using someone who knew all about septic systems and drainage tiles and would do a good job. I have friends who had all kinds of water problems because this wasn't done right when they had their house built.

It seems like whenever you have to fix something that involves water in and around your house, it always turns out to be very expensive.


We wished we had done more checking on the yard drainage before we bought our home. We have a large front yard, but it is very low and anytime we get more than an inch of heavy rain, we have standing water in our front yard.

To make matters worse, we will often lose electricity for no reason at all. If our sump pumps quit working for longer than 15 minutes, we will get water in our basement.

We had to install a generator that would come on as soon as we lose electricity. Our next step is to dig an underground trench and put in new tile. Hopefully this will take care of the problem.

It is has been a very frustrating and expensive thing to deal with. When I get ready to buy my next house, I will pay much more attention to how the area around the house drains.


@indemnifyme - Feeding ducks is certainly fun, but I'm sure those people were happy their houses stopped getting flooded.

I don't own a home, but whenever I'm in the market for one I'm going to pay close attention to the land drainage. It seems like this could be a big issue that you might not think to pay attention to when you're shopping for a house!


When I was younger, there was a pond near my house we lovingly called "the duck pond." A ton of ducks would hang out there, and we would go feed them sometimes.

However, the pond was right behind some houses, and flooding became a problem during rainy weather. Eventually, the whole pond was drained. I was driving by there the other day and I was a little sad when I saw grass and drains where the pond used to be.

I know it was better for the people that lived in front of it, but I had a lot of fun times feeding the ducks near that little pond!


@shell4life - I think your dad is a very creative man and a hard worker. That must have been a big job to dig a ditch that was a foot wide all across your backyard.

It sounds like it did the trick. Probably a lot of people could take care of their drainage problems by doing what your dad did. And it didn't cost anything.


My daughter's house is near the bottom of a gradually sloped hill. During the fall, winter and spring, the back yard is very soggy and the border stones are all filled with moss.

The water just seeps gradually down the hill from one yard to the next. I think that it was poor planning on the builder's part. I don't see any evidence of drainage pipes. I guess that's what happens when you're at the bottom of a hill.


My sister’s back yard is in bad need of a drainage pipe of some sort. During the spring, it’s like a small pond. When it dries out, the ground is dark green from the algae.

In the summer, mosquitoes breed in this marshy area. You can’t step out of her back door without being bitten. She has tried citronella candles, but the swarm is just too thick to be deterred.

Whoever built that house on that land must have spent all their attention on the structure instead of the yard. It was planned very poorly, and now, she has to deal with the consequences.


This spring, I got to see exactly why our landlord came up with a land drainage system for the pasture he owns right next to our yard. We got a record amount of rain, and we ended up with a lake next to us.

The pasture has three ponds in it. One is close to our house. It is surrounded by very low land. The pond near us flooded its banks, and the other two further out in the pasture drained into the low land around it.

This might seem bad, but the drainage system is set up that way. This is because the low land leads out to a ditch with a culvert that runs underneath our county road. This stream can flow as forcefully as needed away from the pasture, taking the excess water from all three ponds and the surrounding area away.


We live on a flat piece of land, and our backyard stays pretty soggy. My dad came up with a drainage solution to keep the algae out of the yard.

It took him a long time and a lot of hard work. He took a shovel and started digging a ditch about a foot wide all the way through the back yard. He spread out the work over a couple of weeks so as not to hurt himself.

It works wonderfully. Now, when a big rain comes, we have a small stream running through the ditch but no soggy yard. It dries out just as fast as the front yard does.


Our local newspaper recently ran a story on a lady who came up with a creative way to deal with her land drainage problem. Her house was safe from flooding, because it was on a small hill. The rest of her yard was so low that it lay below the level of the road, and it stayed flooded during wet seasons.

She said that she loved to garden, but since she had moved to our town, she had been unable to because of the flooding. So, she got the idea to plant a water garden.

She planted lily pads and various kinds of marsh grasses. Her yard began to look green and exotic when flooded. Now, she keeps water there even during the dry season. She is definitely an example of someone who took lemons and made lemonade.

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