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1620-004 1 of 2

BOARD OF DITCH COMMISSIONERS

Low, wet, swampy or overflowed lands are a detriment to the public health, safety and welfare; in 1951, the Delaware Legislature created the Board of Ditch Commissioners to address such problems. The Board was charged with establishing, financing, administering, maintaining and dissolving drainage organizations throughout the state, in order to facilitate the conservation of soil, water wildlife and forest resources. 1.

A board , consisting of three ditch commissioners and three alternates , was established for watch county

(See RG 2221, 3211 and 4211). Succeeding members were to be selected by each county’s resident associate judge from names submitted by the supervisors of the soil Conservation District within the county. The Commissioners were required to be county residents and knowledgeable concerning drainage, farming and land values. The term of office was three years, 2 and the State Drainage Engineer (later designated as the Division of Soil and Water Conservation ) 3 was to serve as the Board’s secretary. Alternates were utilized if a Commissioner faced a conflict of interest on a particular tax ditch.

A ‘Tax Ditch’ is a public governmental body , comprised of individual landowners desiring that their lands be drained or protected from flooding. Initially, the landowners would submit a petition to their county’s Superior Court, requesting the formation of a ‘Tax Ditch’ and formal appraisal of the proposed site by a representative of the Soil Conservation District. 4

Upon receipt of a petition , the Soil Conservation District requests the State Drainage Engineer to begin an investigation of the feasibility of a tax ditch , hold hearings if necessary , and return a final report to the District. If favorable, the petition is filed in Prothonotary’s office and the Board of Ditch Commissioners visits the site to make a more detailed investigation, taking into consideration metes and bounds, assessed property value , existing natural and man-made obstacles , location of proposed works of improvement, rights-of-way, environmental impact and projected distribution of cost. With mutual prior consent, the landowners may gather the aforesaid information, present it to the Board, and dispense with the onset inspection. 5

A final report is prepared and public hearings are announced for anyone having property lying within the watershed of the proposed ditch. At the end of the hearing, a vote of landowners is taken, after which the report and recommendations of the Board are submitted to the Superior Court, which issues a tax ditch order. The landowners may then contract with private engineers to perform the work, with assistance from the State Drainage Engineer.6

After the ditch order is issued, the State Drainage Engineer will call together the taxables and organize the new tax ditch, install officers, and help formulate plans to construct and maintain the tax ditch. They would work closely with the county Board of Assessment in determining fair apportionment of cost. Taxes are to be collected by the County Treasurer and the Tax Ditch may increase the levy should extra maintenance be required.7 The Tax Ditch may file suit for any damage to the drainage system and may expand or alter the drainage system as it sees fit.

In 1969, the administration of the Board of Ditch Commissioners was transferred to the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, Drainage Section, a branch of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.8 Its structure, guidelines, procedures, and membership, however, remained unchanged.

1620-004 2 of 2

BOARD OF DITCH COMMISSIONERS

1. 7 Del. Code , 1974 , ch. 41.

2. Ibid.

3. 59 D.L. , ch. 560.

4. 7 Del. Code , 1974 , ch. 41.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. 57 D.L. , ch. 302.

January 06, 1988 ; January 28, 1988 ; March 22, 1989