Ditches and Drains

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A ditch is an excavated channel in the ground that conveys water during storm events and spring melts. Conveying the water during these events protects public and private infrastructure assets from damage. Ditches and storm pipes are part of a larger network of surface water infrastructure. Additionally, ditches have many environmental benefits including:

  • Slowing the flow of runoff water
  • Provide protection to the downstream creeks and rivers
  • Promote filtering of pollutants from surface water through ground absorption, and
  • Reduce the risk of flooding

Information Sheets:

Refer to the All About Ditches Fact Sheet as a quick resource for ditch alteration and maintenance information.

Municipal drains

There are over 700 municipal drains in Ottawa. Most municipal drains are located on private property in rural agricultural areas and are either ditches or closed systems such as pipes or tiles buried in the ground. They were constructed to improve the drainage of agricultural land by serving as the discharge point for private agricultural tile drainage systems. But, they also remove excess water collected by roadside ditches, residential lots, commercial lands and any other properties in rural areas. Municipal drains are created under the authority of the Drainage Act (provincial legislation) and municipalities in Ontario are required to administer the Act on behalf of the Province. If you have an inquiry about a municipal drain, contact the City of Ottawa by calling 3-1-1. For more detailed information on municipal drains, see the Municipal Drains Fact Sheet.

Tile drains

Tile drainage consists of corrugated plastic tubing, clay and concrete drain tile installed beneath the surface of agricultural land to remove excess subsurface water for a healthy crop root system. The tile drain outlet must be kept clean and in good condition for the drainage system to function properly. The benefits of tile drains include:

  • Crop productivity / increased profitability
  • Farm efficiency / best management practices
  • Reduces soil erosion

In Ontario, the Tile Drainage Act provides loans to agricultural property owners to help them finance tile drain projects through the Tile Loan Program. Applications can be picked up at any Client Service Centre. Applications are reviewed and sent to Council where a by-law is adopted. The application for the loan must be completed and the by-law adopted before the tile drainage system can be installed.


Municipal culverts are part of a drainage system, usually made of corrugated steel, crossing under a road, rail or an embankment.

Culverts are also used under driveways which cross a ditch, and permitted by City’s Private Approach By-law. Driveway culverts belong to the homeowner. Approval to install a driveway culvert is required and contractors must meet the City’s insurance requirements.

Procedure for Culvert Private Approach Permits

  • Private Approach Permit applications are available on ottawa.ca and at any Client Service Centre.
  • Pre-construction inspections of ditch conditions are conducted by the Roads Department, who will recommend location and size and may include special conditions.
  • The Roads Department also does the post-construction inspections to ensure compliance with by-law regulations and any special conditions.
  • Approvals are not required for any repairs which are the sole responsibility of the homeowner.


The application cost for permanent or temporary private approach varies according to the following categories:

  • Private access
  • Commercial, industrial, multi-residential access
  • Temporary access
  • Closure

Ditch maintenance

Ditch maintenance is a shared responsibility between property owners and the City. Depending on the location of the ditch, these responsibilities vary. Below summarizes maintenance responsibilities.

Urban/suburban/rural subdivisions

Property owner:

  • Routine maintenance and flushing of culvert
  • Removal of debris
  • Removal of root infiltration caused by a private tree
  • Remove silt and sand build-up
  • Maintain boulevard, including cutting grass, weeds, and alike
  • Replacement of deteriorated or damaged culverts


  • Re-establish the grade and slope to the original design to maintain positive drainage, as part of a larger maintenance program
  • For identified culverts in the larger maintenance program, flush to remove silt and sand.

Rural (not part of subdivision)

Property owner:

  • Routine maintenance and flushing of culvert
  • Replacement of deteriorated or damaged culverts


  • Removal of debris
  • Re-establish the grade and slope to its original design to maintain positive drainage, as part of a larger maintenance program
  • Flush culverts to remove silt and sand, as part of a larger maintenance program
  • Cut grass and weeds twice a year (spring and late summer)
  • Related items

For inquiries regarding Driveways and culvert crossings please contact rowadmin@ottawa.ca.

For the following inquiries, please call 3-1-1 for a service request to be created:

  • Ditch and culvert problems – Public Works Department
  • Grass Cutting inquiries – Public Works Department
  • Flooded Roadway from Blocked Catchbasin – Public Works Department
  • Flooded Roadway not from Blocked Catchbasin – Infrastructure & Water Services Department
  • Grade alterations causing drainage problems – Infrastructure & Water Services Department

How to maintain ditches, drains and culverts

An infographic displays how to maintain ditches and culverts

Frequently asked questions

  1. How can a resident request ditch maintenance assistance?
  • Submit a service request through 3-1-1 or Ottawa.ca
  • The Supervisor/Maintenance Co-ordinator will attend the site to assess ditch condition
  • Staff will determine who is responsible for maintenance (City department or resident/s)
  • If the City is responsible – the work will be added to the City’s ditching program list. The list is prioritized by risk factor
  • The City will contact the inquirer to inform if work will be completed by the City or if it is the resident’s responsibility
  • If it is the resident's responsibility, the City will provide direction on what is required
  1. I want to widen my driveway, which crosses over the ditch currently. Do I need to apply for a ditch alteration program to do this?

No. A Private Approach Permit is required to widen an existing driveway and can be obtained through Right-of-Way Services.

  1. There are noxious weeds growing in my ditch. Will the City remove them?

If noxious weeds, such as wild parsnip, poison ivy, or giant hogweed are found growing in the ditch, submit a ServiceOttawa request by completing the Wild Parsnip, Poison Ivy or Giant Hogweed in ditches form(link is external), or call 3-1-1.

  1. Is there a plan for a city wide upgrade to have everyone on stormwater sewers?

No, there is no plan to upgrade all residents to storm sewers. Ditches are an acceptable means to convey stormwater and are a critical component of road design which help to preserve the road subbase; in addition to having stormwater quality management benefits by naturally filtering water and keeping water away from roads. Ditches have a reduced infrastructure maintenance cost. Ditches are also comparatively resilient to the anticipated changes in precipitation intensity.

  1. My neighbor has altered their ditch and it seems to be causing a problem with my drainage, what do I do?

If you would like to report an altered ditch the City recommends you contact 3-1-1 and a Service Request will be created.

  1. My neighbour’s ditch has been filled for years, and I was told they had permission, why can’t I fill mine now?

Pre-amalgamation, some of the municipalities and townships allowed ditches to be altered (filled / piped). Since that time, it has been well documented that improper ditch alterations can negatively affect surrounding areas and stormwater infrastructure. It is imperative that an engineering study be conducted to assess the impacts of the proposed ditch modifications.

The City reviews each ditch infill complaint on a case-by-case basis as there may have been a number of reasons the ditch was infilled legally or illegally.

  1. There is standing water in my ditch, will the City fix this?

If there is standing water in your ditch you should wait 24 hours after a storm event as ditches are designed to catch and hold water to slowly drain in the ground. If after this time water still has not drained from the ditch, call the City at 3-1-1 to issue a Service Request. City staff can visit the location and assess the situation.