The history of drainage in Michigan is deeply rooted in our State’s abundant rainfall, in its diverse terrain, and in the rich variety of soils left by retreating glaciers. Containing vast tracts of poorly-drained land, the territory was considered uninhabitable by early explorers. Much of today’s prime farmland, in fact, was earlier written off as hopelessly unfit for cultivation.
Despite setbacks from malaria and other insect-borne diseases, man’s conquering instincts prevailed. Among priorities of early leaders was creation of a system of roads promoting access to interior regions. Our first territorial drain law, enacted prior to 1820, provided drainage for these early highways.
Subsequent laws led to the draining of rich upland marshes and swampland for crop production. To a growing population it had become apparent that extensive systems of artificial drainage were necessary for continued expansion of agricultural and related activities.
A few years after achieving statehood, Michigan passed its first state drain law, dividing authority for drainage improvements between township and county officials. During succeeding years the importance of protecting public health was fixed into law.
Public Act 254, enacted in 1898, eliminated duplication of authority by fixing responsibility for most public drains in the office of an elected County Water Resources Commissioner. An important contribution of this law can be found in the methods and processes described for constructing and maintaining our public drains. Those processes constitute the basis for procedures still followed today.
More recently, government’s focus on drainage has evolved in response to public pressure for additional housing and related service facilities. Many of the drains serving our county were designed to meet the more restricted demands of an agricultural society. Spiraling changes in land development continue to necessitate construction of larger and more complex systems. Given the small number of regulated facilities which have recently been upgraded, the process of rebuilding to serve the drainage needs of today’s Calhoun County has just begun.