Drainage ditches are common place on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Today a network of public ditches covers large areas of the middle parts of the Delmarva. There are approximately 821 miles of ditches maintained in 101 public drainage associations (PDAs) and four Public Watershed Associations (PWAs) in Caroline, Queen Anne’s Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties of Maryland. These ditches help drain 183,000 acres of land composed of crop land, forest land, roadways, commercial areas and home sites, conveying storm water runoff from rural towns on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The law that currently regulates Public Drainage Associations was established in 1957 under Article 25 (County Commissioners) sections 52-95 of the Annotated Code of Maryland. The law was revised in 2013 to include updated language and moved from the County Commissioners to the Local Government volume (Title 26 - Public Drainage Associations). Authority to regulate agricultural drainage projects financed or managed by public drainage associations can be found in the Agriculture volume, Title 8 - Soil Conservation, Subtitle 6 - Drainage of Agricultural Land.
Public Drainage Associations and Public Watershed Associations are independent entities of government and have and possess rights-of-way and easements for construction and maintenance purposes. They may impose assessments on benefited land based on certain land classification, i.e., woodland, cropland, residential and commercial land. The assessments are for ditch maintenance and are referred to as taxing of the beneficiaries, hence the term tax ditches.
Today the role of the Public Drainage Associations and Public Watershed Associations is changing to a large degree. While these ditch systems were originally designed for agricultural drainage, they are now supporting storm drainage from urban town centers, state highways and county roads, and new commercial and residential development. The challenge for these associations is to protect the economic well being of people who depend on effective land drainage, while at the same time seek to enhance the environment that is affected by public drainage ditches. The objective of the Maryland Department of Agriculture is to assist the Public Drainage Associations and Public Watershed Associations in balancing the efficient drainage of land for farming, forestry, development and public transportation with maintenance utilizing technology to reduce nutrient and sediment export and enhance stream riparian habitat for living resources.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture has worked in conjunction with the Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative (ESRGC) at Salisbury University to provide a comprehensive digital representation of Public Drainage Associations and Public Watershed Associations on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This information is available at the
Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative website.