Regulatory Program: Drainage Permits

Water Resource Districts (WRD) and the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) are responsible for regulating drainage in North Dakota as authorized under NDCC 61-03 and 61-32. A “drain” in North Dakota is defined in NDCC 61-21-01:

“Drain” means any natural watercourse opened, or proposed to be opened, and improved for drainage and any artificial drains of any nature or description constructed for that purpose, including dike and appurtenant works. This definition may include more than one watercourse or artificial channel constructed for the aforementioned purpose when the watercourse or channels drain land within a practical drainage area.

North Dakota Century Code differentiates between permitting processes for surface drains and subsurface drains (a.k.a. drain tile). A permit to drain is required for:

  • A surface drain having a contributing drainage area of 80 acres or more (NDCC 61-32-03)
  • A subsurface drain having an area of 80 acres or more (NDCC 61-32-03.1)

North Dakota’s WRDs are primarily responsible for regulating drainage in North Dakota, including reviewing all applications for drains, while the OSE is responsible for reviewing applications for drains of statewide or interdistrict significance. The OSE is also responsible for reviewing emergency drain permit applications.

Program Rules & Guidance

Drainage Statues and Rules

Guidance For Water Resource Districts On Processing Subsurface Water Management Permit Applications

Drainage Permit Applications

Applications for emergency, subsurface, or surface drains are available for download at the following links.

Application For Surface Drain (SFN 2830)

Application To Install A Subsurface Water Management System (SFN 61244)

Drainage Complaints

Drainage Complaints

A complaint of unauthorized construction of a drain may be filed with the WRD of jurisdiction. The WRD will determine if a landowner or tenant constructed a drain without first securing a permit as required under NDCC 61-32-03 or 61-32-03.1, or in conflict with the terms or conditions of a drainage permit.

A WRD decision on a drainage complaint may be appealed to the OSE within 30 days of receipt of the WRD’s decision on the complaint.

If the WRD does not act on the complaint within a reasonable time (120 days), the original complaint may be filed with the OSE within 150 days of the original submittal date.

Obstruction To Drain/Watercourse Complaints

A complaint of obstruction to a drain or watercourse may be filed with the WRD of jurisdiction. The WRD will determine if a landowner or tenant has intentionally or negligently caused an obstruction to a natural watercourse or drain. A WRD decision on an obstruction to a drain complaint may be appealed to the district court of the county in which the land is located.

Complaint For Water-Related Issues (SFN 60840)

Appeal Of A Water Resource District Drainage Complaint Decision (SFN 61409)

Drainage Permits Database

Provides access to available information for drainage permits that have been issued in North Dakota.


North Dakota Water Resource Districts

Regulatory Responsibility Map

For more information please contact the Regulatory Division at (701) 328-2752 or e-mail.