PIERRE | An upstream landowner who said his basement flooded and his haying and calving were damaged the year after a neighboring farm put drain tile on its property won a victory in the South Dakota Supreme Court last week.
The five justices ruled unanimously for Albert Delany. He filed a drainage complaint in Brule County claiming Surat Farms LLC partially blocked an intermittent watercourse.
The properties are on opposite sides of County Road 352 near the Bijou Hills area. A culvert drains from Delany’s land onto land owned by Surat Farms.
Surat Farms contracted in 2013 for a drainage system with a subsurface inlet just beyond where the culvert empties onto its land. Delany claimed in 2014 that water began entering his basement. The inlet stood 15 inches higher than the ground in its natural state.
Delany filed a complaint against Surat Farms and an upstream landowner. A Brule County drainage official visited Delany’s property and saw cattails, reeds, dead brush and trees that she believed might block the flow.
Delany cleared up the area, but still had water backing up, according to Justice Steven Zinter. Delany filed a second complaint against Surat Farms.
"The Brule County Board of Commissioners held a hearing and found that Surat impermissibly altered the watercourse," Justice Steven Zinter wrote.
The justice said Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson didn’t err when he affirmed the county board’s decision. Among steps Judge Anderson took was visiting the site and considering evidence from both sides.
“The court found that the soil elevation near the drain tile inlet was acting as a dam, backing up water onto Delany’s land,” Zinter wrote.
He continued: “The court also found that the minimal differences in elevation along the watercourse meant that even a minor backup of water could significantly impact an upstream landowner.
“Finally,” Zinter added, “the court found Delany credible when he testified that the backed-up water had rendered portions of his land unsuitable for calving and haying.”
The justice said Surat’s evidence was “far from compelling. The aerial photographs indicated that the watercourse flowed from the culvert in years prior to 2013, but the image from 2015 shows the damming complained of by Delany.”
Zinter said the county board and the circuit court “only ordered enforcement of the drainage easement” that Delany held for the watercourse across Surat’s land.
“This was appropriate injunctive relief,” Zinter wrote.