Drainage Information

General Drainage Questions

What is a “drain?”
The term “drain” includes creeks, ditches, tiles (underground pipe systems), and other structures intended to move run-off water.

What is a “regulated” drain?
A regulated drain is one which is under the jurisdiction of the County Drainage Board.

I would like to discharge water drainage from my septic or mound system perimeter drain into a nearby ditch or creek. Do I need a permit?
If the drain is a regulated drain, yes.  You can verify whether the drain in question is regulated by visiting our Regulated Drain Map Section.  Anyone wishing to discharge any amount of water into a regulated drain must acquire the proper permit(s): if it is indeed a regulated drain, you will need to fill out a Permission to Enter form (Drainage Form 3) (PDF file), which must be presented to the County Drainage Board and approved or denied.  However, if your discharge tile is less than 8" in diameter, you may fill out a Permission to Enter with a less than 8" tile form (Drainage Form 3A) (PDF file).  Both forms must be properly filled out and submitted to the County Surveyor's Office, but only requests for tiles of a more than 8" diameter must be presented before the drainage board.

I’m planning on building a house or shed near a drain. How far away must my structure be from the drain?
The Drainage Board Right-of-Way for a county regulated drain is 75' from the existing Top of Bank of a creek or ditch or from the existing centerline of a tile (underground pipe system).  However, if you wish to place a structure within the 75' right-of-way, a variance may be obtained from the Drainage Board.  The Drainage Board Variance Procedure describes the method by which one must apply for a variance, and the Variance Table provides the Board-recommended distance from a drain for various structures.  Furthermore, you can download and fill out the Petition for a Variance into a County Regulated Drain Right-of-Way form (Drainage Form 1) (PDF file) and submit it in to the Surveyor's Office for consideration.  Variances are considered on an individual basis, are subject to the decisions of the Drainage Board, and may not be granted due to extenuating circumstances.

Drainage Board

What is the purpose of the Drainage Board?
The Drainage Board analyzes the drains of the county and clears them of flow-inhibiting debris and designs drain projects to increase capacity and efficiency, which reduces the chance of flooding.  As many drains run across more than a single person's property, it was necessary to establish them as commonly held and in turn establish an authority, the Drainage Board, to manage them.  This means the Board has the authority to control access to regulated drains, as well as hire outside contractors to maintain, clean, or reconstruct regulated drains if need be.

What does the Surveyor’s Office have to do with the Drainage Board?
The surveyor’s office provides drainage technicians, employed by the surveyor, to advise the Drainage Board and design drain projects.

Who is on the Drainage Board?
The Elkhart County Commissioners organized the Citizen’s Drainage Board in 1978. Prior to this point, the commissioners themselves acted as the drainage board. Currently, one county commissioner and four appointed citizens of the county serve as voting members of the Drainage Board.

Who performs the drainage work planned out by the Surveyor and Drainage Board?
When a project is finalized, whether it is restructuring a drain, clearing brush from the bank of a drain, or clearing blockage or debris from a drain, it is then open for bidding from private contractors. The winning bidder then performs the work required. A list of current projects open for bid can be found in the What's New? section.

A History of The Names of Selected Elkhart County Rivers and Drains

Source: Bartholomew, H.S.K. Stories and Sketches of Elkhart County. Nappanee: E.V. Publishing House, 1936. (Available in the Indiana Room of the Goshen Public Library.

The St. Joseph River enters into Elkhart County just northeast of Bristol, and exits to the west of Elkhart.  The river was named for Father St. Joseph, a prominent priest in the area who led a small band of French missionaries, some of the first white people to visit the St. Joseph Valley.  His grave is said to be marked by a small wooden cross at the bank of the river, just south of the Niles city limits.
Note: The St. Joseph River is not a county regulated drain, but is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources.

The Elkhart River, and in turn the Little Elkhart River,derives its name from the original Miami Indian name for the river, "Mishiwa-Teki-sipiwi," which literally translated means "Elk-Heart-River."  The Potawatami Indians adopted the name into their own tongue, calling the river "Misiwa-Odaik-Sebi," and in turn the French, some of the first white explorers in the area, labeled the River "Coeur-de-Cerf," which means "Heart of a Stag." The author of Stories and Sketches of Elkhart County notes that the Reverend Isaac McCoy (see Christiana Creek below) used the name "Elksheart" in his writing in 1822, and six years later in 1828, in the Carey Mission treaty of September 20th, the "s" was dropped to become "Elkheart."  Finally, during the conception of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, the "e" was removed and the Elkhart River and Elkhart County were given the names we use today.
Note: The Elkhart River and the Little Elkhart River are not county regulated drains, but are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources.

Baugo Creek is the 4th largest drain in the county and runs along the western edge of the County in Baugo and Olive townships. The original Native American name for “Baugo Creek” was “Baubaugo,” which supposedly translates to “Devil River,” as it frequently overflows its banks and becomes very turbulent in times of high water.

Rock Run Creek is located in the southern part of Clinton Township and empties into the Elkhart River on the north side of Goshen. The history of the name is unclear, yet Rock Run Creek is known for having hosted two grist mills and a saw mill in the 19th Century, and is referred to in early documents as “Rock Creek.”

Yellow Creek flows to the north through Harrison and Concord townships and empties into the Elkhart River. The Creek derives its name from its yellow appearance in sunlight.

Sheep Creek is located in Jefferson and Washington townships, and reaches the St. Joseph River just west of Bristol. Sheep Creek received its name due to the practice of early Elkhart County farmers washing their sheep in the creek before shearing.

Pine Creek begins in Middlebury Township, and flows through Jefferson and Concord townships to the St. Joseph River and was named for a group of pine trees at its mouth.

Indian Creek extends east from Pine Creek, in Jefferson Township. The creek derives its name from a story in which a Native American died near the mouth of the creek and was placed by his tribe inside a sealed, hollow log and left along the banks of the creek.

Trout Creek flows through Washington Township towards the St. Joseph River, northeast of Bristol. The creek, contrary to popular belief, was not named for a presence of trout in the creek, but for Isaac Trout, who once owned the property through which the creek flows.
Note: Trout Creek is not a regulated drain.

Christiana Creek flows south from Osolo Township into the St. Joseph River. The creek was named for Christiana McCoy, wife of a prominent Elkhart County Baptist missionary, who supposedly named the creek after his wife due to the “purity of the waters and beauty of its surroundings.” Christiana McCoy washed the family’s clothes in the creek, and Mr. McCoy was rumored to have said the true reason he named Christiana Creek after his wife was “because it is rapid at the mouth.”
Note: Christiana Creek is not a county regulated drain.

Sources Consulted:

Bartholomew, H.S.K. Stories and Sketches of Elkhart County. Nappanee: E.V. Publishing House, 1936.

Cazier, Lola. Surveys and Surveyors of the Public Domain, 1785-1975.  Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Wilson, George R. Early Indiana Trails and Surveys.  (No Publisher Info).