Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System Illinois State Archives

Drainage Districts

Drainage districts are local bodies formed for the purpose of draining, ditching, and improving land for agricultural and sanitary purposes. They are authorized to build and maintain drains and levees, to sue all necessary private land within their corporate bodies for that purpose, and to tax land within their boundaries as necessary.1

The Illinois Constitution of 1870 authorized the General Assembly to pass laws giving landowners drainage rights, including the use of adjoining land for ditching purposes.2 As a result, a comprehensive drainage law was passed in 1871.3 The law set up legal procedures for local citizens to petition the county courts for drainage works, assessing and collecting the costs of the drainage construction from the owners of the lands to be benefited by the work, and compensating the owners of land which would be entered for ditching purposes. The county courts were given authority to appoint three drainage commissioners; township commissioners of highways could also serve as drainage commissioners. The 1871 law was found unconstitutional; as a result the Illinois Constitution was amended, making drainage commissioners the heads of corporate drainage districts and giving these districts constitutional authority to levy property taxes.4 Two separate and coequal Illinois drainage laws were passed in 1879. One, the "Levee Law," repeated the procedures of the 1871 law, with added procedures for legal appeal by landowners dissatisfied with their assessments; the second, the "Drainage District Law," made the township highway commissioners the township drainage district commissioners.5 For non-township-organized counties, the county commissioners served as drainage commissioners. For districts extending over three or more townships, districts were set up and temporary commissioners appointed by county courts, similarly to the "Levee Law," but if the drainage district contained more than 15 landowners, the owners elected the three commissioners. Both laws gave commissioners three-year terms.6 From 1871 to 1885, Illinois law required that all drainage commissions have three members.7 In 1885, drainage districts in which drainage construction had been completed were authorized to appoint only one commissioner.8 Although Illinois drainage law was recodified in 1955, the responsibilities of drainage commissioners have largely remained unchanged since 1871.9 From 1871 to the present, the commissioners have been required to file annual financial reports with the county or circuit courts.10

Record Descriptions

1L. 1871-72, p. 356; L. 1879, pp. 120, 142; L. 1955, p. 512.
2Constitution of 1870, Article IV, section 31.
3L. 1871-72, p. 356.
4Constitution of 1870, 1878 Amendment, Article IV, section 31.
5L. 1879, p. 120.
6L. 1879, p. 142.
7L. 1871-72, p. 356; L. 1879, p. 120; L. 1879, p. 142.
8L. 1885, p. 109.
9L. 1871-72, p. 356; Rev. Stat. 1979, Ch. 42, secs. 4–14 to 4–17.
10L. 1871-72, p. 356; Rev. Stat. 1979, Ch. 42, sec. 4–32.