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 North Dakota Century Code title 61.

North Dakota Century Code (NDCC) differentiates between permitting processes for surface drainage and subsurface water management systems (a.k.a. drain tile systems).

Surface Drainage (NDCC § 61-32-03)
  • A permit is required before draining a pond, slough, lake or sheetwater, or any series thereof, that has a watershed area (i.e., drainage area) of 80 acres or more.
  • An “Application for Surface Drain” is submitted first to the OSE.
  • For emergency drainage permitting, please see instructions included in the "Application for Surface Drain”.
Subsurface Water Management Systems (NDCC § 61-32-03.1)

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

Program Rules & Guidance

Administrative Code - Links to the North Dakota Administrative Code "Article 89-02 - Drainage Of Water"

Century Code - Links to the North Dakota Century Code "Drainage"

Drainage Permitting Definitions

Statewide or Interdistrict Significance Determinations

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

Drainage Permit Applications

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

New Surface Drain Permit Changes (Effective April 1, 2018)

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 Engineer Project Area Map

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