Early Drainage in Indiana
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 not only hindered farming but also created health problems such as various fevers. Proper drainage was needed to provide better farms and health.
The 1st mention of drainage in Indiana statute 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 fine for filling these ditches.
An Act in 1832 provided for draining swamps, ponds, marshes and other low lands within 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.
Federal Act of 1850
In 1848, the General Assembly set a resolution to Congress calling for wetlands in Jay and Adams Counties to be sold at a reduced price on condition that owners would drain the land. The resolution also called for 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 swamplands. The act set up the procedures required by the Federal Act of 1850.
In 1852, an act was passed regarding the construction of the levees and drains by 5 or more landowners forming an Association. These Associations acted much like a Corporation.
Act of 1863
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 great grandfather of our current Drainage Law is an Act of 1863, which provided that land owners may petition the Board of Commissioners for drainage. The Act also provided that the cost was to be borne by landowners within the drainage shed and those assessments created a lien on the property. In 1867 a penalty of $1 per day was added for any obstruction to these drains.
Rapid Growth & Drainage Laws
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 almost doubled in the 2 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.
Indiana Drainage Code
Many drainage provisions were passed between 1863 and 1965 when a major overhaul of the Drainage Laws was made. The Indiana Drainage Code compiled 40 separate Acts (passed between 1803 and 1964) into 1 code. The Drainage Code was revised in 1981 with relatively minor changes and since then has had minor revisions.