How Do You Drain Water Off Lawns?

And How Do You Handle the Runoff?

Image: French drain with gravel.
French drains give you some control over where water runoff ends up. David Beaulieu

How do you drain water off lawns? It is a problem that many homeowners face, particularly those who live in low spots. If your property lies at the foot of a slope, and if your region receives its fair share of rain, chances are good that you will someday have to deal with rainfall pooling on your grass (if you haven't already).

How to Handle Runoff

In answering how to drain water off lawns, you need to know not only about water drains, but also what to do with the runoff.

That is, where can you safely channel what you catch in water drains?

A solution for some homeowners may be a type of water drain known as a "French drain" (picture). For those looking to tackle lawn drainage problems in an aesthetically pleasing manner, there's also the option of building dry creeks. These are two of the more popular solutions to dealing with standing water on your grass. But there's one question you have to answer first, before you start draining water off your lawn: Where do you want the water you're channeling to end up?

Never use water drains to channel water towards a neighbor's property: you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands (to say nothing of creating ill will with your neighbor). That much is probably obvious to most. But don't think that ending your water drain at the street (a solution that occurs naturally to many folks) is necessarily without problems of its own.

You may find it difficult to tie your water drain in to existing storm sewers -- not physically difficult so much as difficult to get permission from the powers that be. But if you can get such permission, ending your water drain this way is an optimal solution. Too look into this solution further, check with your local Department of Public Works.

A solution some opt for that is less optimal is simply directing water runoff towards the street, letting it go where it may after that. If you live in an urban or suburban environment, where a sidewalk separates your lawn from the street, draining water off your lawn in this fashion is problematic for three reasons:

  1. In winter, you may make the sidewalk slippery for pedestrians due to icing up (in cold climates).
  2. In summer, you may also make the sidewalk slippery -- but this time, due to the formation of algae.
  3. You may get into trouble with the authorities.

So what other options are there for terminating water drains?

Dry Wells: The End of the Line for Water Drains

Well, one option is something known as the "dry well." Although you can build a dry well using commercial products, a dry well is, at the most basic level, simply a cavity dug in the ground and back-filled with rocks. Water is channeled into this underground "rock pit," where it then (eventually) harmlessly percolates down into the groundwater. However, dry wells may not be an effective solution to lawn drainage problems if your soil type is a heavy clay.