About Us

  1. Role of the Drain Commissioner
  2. Staff Background
  3. Guiding Principles
  4. Frequently Asked Questions

County Drain Commissioners have the responsibility of administering the State of Michigan’s Drain Code, Act 40 of 1956. This is a law that amended and codified drain law which was first passed in the late 1800s. Among other things the State Drain Code lays out strict processes for taking action on drain projects.

In the mid-1800s, people were fearful of coming to live in Michigan because of water-borne diseases such as malaria, cholera, and yellow fever. Because Michigan once had large systems of “swamps”. It was thought that, the establishment of drainage systems was necessary for public health. Drainage systems (most of them open ditches) were initially installed and maintained by property owners; but conflict soon arose between landowners when the action of one owner negatively impacted another. To provide broader oversight, Michigan’s townships took control of the drain systems around the 1860s. Later, the legislature changed state law to create an office for one countywide elected official.

Because Drain Commissioners have been around since the mid-1800s they were exempt from laws protecting the environment. They did not have to obtain wetland or inland lakes and streams permits nor follow soil erosion control practices to protect natural resources because many of these laws were passed in the 1970s. When I took office in 2013, amendments to state law eliminated many of these exemptions.

Video brought to you by the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners


Environmental Quality & Natural Resource Management

Early in Michigan’s history drain projects were built to relieve flooding and to make land more suitable for agriculture and development. Although most projects made life more convenient for a new state and its growing population, drain projects in the past were responsible for a significant amount of environmental degradation that included draining vast amounts of wetlands, channelizing (straightening) natural streams, and negatively impacting important wildlife habitat. Fortunately, modern Drain Commissioners strive to balance the need for proper drainage with environmental quality and natural resource management. They are also becoming much more involved in surface water quality primarily through better storm water management.

It is still critical to maintain good drainage to protect public health and property, but Drain Commissioners must now also consider environmental impacts and water quality. In fact, many counties have changed the office name to “Water Resources Commissioner.”

Drainage Today

Today, Muskegon County has over 100 established county drains that encompass over 216 miles of open storm drains and 21 miles of enclosed storm drains. Additionally, there are some 200 storm water detention facilities under the authority of the Drain Commissioner. The majority of the County’s drainage districts were established in the early 1900s, so much of the work of this office is maintaining existing systems. Not all drains that you see, however, are under the Drain Commissioner’s jurisdiction; some are County Road Commission roadside ditches, and many others are private.

Other Involvement

In addition to drain oversight, Drain Commissioners can be involved in:

  • Lake level establishment and maintenance
  • Lake Boards that are formed to address lake management issues such as nuisance aquatic vegetation and algae
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s storm water permit requirements (administered by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality)
  • Site plan review as it pertains to storm water management
  • Water pollution abatement by reducing illicit discharges into county drains