What is a
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. 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
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 of 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.
Formation of a Tax Ditch
The Delaware General Assembly enacted the 1951 Drainage Law to establish,
finance and maintain drainage organizations (tax ditches). Formation
of a tax ditch can only be initiated by landowners who petition Superior
Court to resolve drainage or flooding concerns.
This petition results in the Conservation District requesting an investigation
by the Division of Soil and Water Conservation to "...determine whether
the formation of the tax ditch is practicable and feasible, an is in the
interest of the public health, safety and welfare." If so determined,
the Conservation District files the petition in Superior Court and the
Board of Ditch Commissioners (as directed by the resident judge) prepares
a report on the proposed tax ditch.
This report contains information such as drainage ditch locations, needed
rights-of-way, associated costs, and is the basis for a hearing that is
held for affected landowners. At the conclusion of the hearing,
a referendum is held for the landowners to approve or disapprove formation
of the tax ditch. The Board of Ditch Commissioners files the result
of the hearing and referendum in Superior Court. The Court then
holds a final hearing or any interest person to object to the formation
of the tax ditch.
Following the outcome of the final hearing, and if deemed appropriate,
the Superior Court judge issues a Court Order establishing the tax ditch
organization. The Court Order establishes permanent rights-of-way
for the tax ditch organization for construction and maintenance operation.
It also empowers the organization landowners, funds to perform this construction
and maintenance. The taxation amount for individual properties is
also established through the Court Order.
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 fully 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. Unfortunately, mowing machines
are not selective and cut all vegetation including shrubs and grasses
that provide desirable food and habitat for wildlife. Recent attempts
have focused on the development o viable alternative methods for controlling
vegetation. One successful method is the "weed wiper bar."
This machine applies herbicides on targeted species by using a wiper bar
that leaves most desirable species untouched.
An experimental maintenance practice to promote increased wildlife habitat
involves the establishment of tree clusters along the edge of the ditch.
This practice yields numerous environmental benefits as it increases tree
canopy, reduces forest fragmentation, provides shade thereby lowering
water temperature, and increases the dissolved oxygen in the water.
For more information about Tax Ditch services, contact Gene Vanderwende
at (302) 741-2600 ext 3.