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Ask the Builder | What to do about drainage issue caused by neighbor’s pool

(Yue Wu/THE WASHINGTON POST)

My back yard is not level. The ground slopes from the left to the right as you look out my back kitchen window. The land in the subdivision slopes this general direction until it hits a small creek three blocks away. Ever since my neighbor built an in-ground swimming pool I have had water ponding at the boundary line between our two lots. It eventually goes away, but it’s unsightly. Why did this happen, how can it be fixed, who’s responsible, and could it have been prevented? — Lynn R., Colerain Township, Ohio

I’ve seen my fair share of property line issues like this. Years ago I had a minor run-in with my neighbor at the new house I built for my family. This neighbor claimed that all sorts of extra water was now running across her lot that never had been there before.

The lot I built on was tilted toward her house before I built. What I was quick to point out was that she was getting less water coming at her home because all of my roof water was being piped to the rear of my lot and deposited into a creek where it would have ended up had it run across her lot. We ended up being friends in the end when she saw I was trying to help her drainage issues. My college degree in geology and geomorphology has paid off more times than I can remember!

If you had been lucky enough to sit in Dr. Lattman’s geomorphology lectures, you’d quickly discover that Mother Nature hates level ground and is constantly trying to erode, shape and transport all land to the oceans. Land that looks level is almost always slightly sloped toward a creek, brook, stream or river. If you do run across level land, it’s almost always been artificially created by man or beaver.

In your case, the cause of the problem is pretty simple. As you point out, before your neighbor’s pool was installed the land where the pool sits was lower and your neighbor’s lot was tilted toward the natural creek. The pool builders, no doubt, raised the pool deck slightly above the level of the land at the property line.

If they had not done this, the overland flow of rain water would run into the pool fouling the clear, sparkling water. The pool, in effect, has become a miniature Hoover Dam.

The sad thing is your miniature Lake Mead on your lot could have been prevented with a little extra work on the part of the pool builder. At the very least, he had two options.

The pool builder could have built the pool even higher than it is now and then extended the natural swale around the pool on one or both sides. This is easier said than done because it’s all a matter of how much fall there is across your neighbor’s rear yard.

It’s a tough tolerance to maintain when grading land, but the minimum slope plumbers use in house drain piping will allow water to flow across open land and not pond. Plumbers usually slope drain pipes at one-eighth inch of fall per foot of run. This means for every 8 feet of horizontal travel, the land drops down just 1 inch. You can slope it more if you can, and this helps transport more water faster.

The second option the pool builder could have chosen was to install a field drain at the bottom of the natural swale at the property line. This catch basin would have connected to buried drain pipe that transported the water around the pool and dumped it onto the ground on your neighbor’s lot.

The issues with this solution are many. First, the field drain slotted cover would need periodic maintenance to keep it free of debris. If the bottom of the catch basin is not cleaned out on a regular basis, then the pipes eventually may clog with silt. The water traveling in the pipes would move faster than it would across the open grass, so it would have more eroding energy upon exiting the pipe.

Your neighbor is responsible for fixing this problem. He, or the pool builder, should have known it was going to happen. It would have been so much easier to deal with while the pool was under construction.

If you’re friendly with your neighbor and can have a civil discussion about the solution, I’d advise you to go for the open swale around the pool rather than the field drain and piping. This method, now that the pool is built, is probably the least expensive fix. That makes it a win/win for you and your neighbor.

Most common law is pretty clear on this issue. You’re usually not allowed to impede water, causing it to flood an adjacent lot. You’re also not allowed to reshape your lot and dump water in a direction it otherwise would not have flowed naturally. Let’s hope you don’t have to get attorneys involved in this dispute.

Your county or township health officials may be able to provide some leverage if your neighbor resists fixing the issue. The standing water is a health issue as it provides a great breeding ground for mosquitos and other insects of interest.

I’m hoping you have a good relationship with your neighbor and he’ll work as fast as possible to fix your lot drainage issue!

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. Contact him through his Web site: www.askthebuilder.com.

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