What is a Tax Ditch?
A tax ditch is a governmental subdivision of the State. It is a watershed based organization formed by a prescribed legal process in Superior Court (Delaware Code, Title 7, Chapter 41). The organization is comprised of all landowners (also referred to as taxables) of a particular watershed or sub-watershed. The operations of a tax ditch are overseen by ditch managers and a secretary/treasurer. These officers are landowners within the watershed and are elected at an annual meeting by the taxables.
Delaware has 228 individual tax ditch organizations. They range in size from the 56,000 acre Marshyhope Creek Tax Ditch in southern Delaware to a two-acre system in Wilmington. These organizations manage over 2,000 miles of channels and provide benefits to over 100,000 people and almost one-half the state-maintained roads. Tax ditch channels range in size from 6 to 80 feet wide and 2 to 14 feet deep. The dimensions depend upon the acreage being drained and topography.
There are 26 Tax Ditches in New Castle County, Delaware. In New Castle County there are approximately 2,800 properties within a Tax Ditch organization, of which approximately 800 properties have tax ditch rights-of-way on them.
Tax Ditch Maintenance
Vegetative maintenance on tax ditches is performed to allow access to channels for the removal of accumulated sediment, commonly referred to as "dip outs". Dipping out a channel is done using a hydraulic excavator that removes approximately one to two feet of material from the channel bottom. This allows the channel to remain functional and provide the level of drainage intended by its original design. Dip outs generally occur once every 15 to 20 years.
Vegetative maintenance traditionally involves the use of rotary mowing machines to control trees and large shrubs. Failure to perform this maintenance will result in the growth of large trees and prohibit access to the channel for dip-out purposes.
Tax Ditch Rights-of-way
Rights-of-way along a tax ditch can vary and be 16.5 feet to 250 feet. They can be measured in different ways - from top of bank or from centerline of ditch. There are also a few tax ditch organizations with access rights of way through private property for equipment travel only.
These legally recorded rights-of-way are to prohibit permanent structures/obstructions from blocking access to the tax ditch. Obstructions that prohibit access include: houses, sheds, fences, wells, septic systems, etc.
How to find out if a property is affected by a Tax Ditch
Contact the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Division of Soil and Water Conservation at (302) 855-1930. You can also look on the Environmental Navigator at www.dnrec.state.de.us/DNRECeis (follow link to map view, then to references for tax ditches. Exact rights-of-way at this time can only be obtained and verified by the Division of Soil and Water Conservation (302-855-1930), the New Castle Conservation District (302-832-3100), the Prothonotary's Office, or the Tax Ditch Organization.
Please Note: Rights-of-ways will soon be filed at the Recorder of Deeds Office per recent legislation found at www.delcode.state.de.us/title7/c041.
Prepared by DNREC. Div. Soil & Water Conservation 10/10/06