Backyard landscaping encroaching on right of way

Private Use of Public Lands

The Lake Worth Drainage District (District) canal rights-of-way may be owned in fee or encumbered by an easement. This is to provide the required access to maintain the canal channel for drainage and water supply. Over the years, certain portions of the District’s canal rights-of-way have become obstructed by unauthorized encroachments that infringe on the District’s ability to provide flood control to all areas within our boundary. Additionally, the occupation of publicly-owned rights-of-way or easements is a violation of Florida Statue Chapter 298.66[1]; and may place additional liabilities on the adjacent property owner.

If may seem unreasonable to some people, but property owners adjacent to the District’s canals are not entitled to additional use-rights by virtue of their location. The primary purpose of the canals system is providing flood control to an estimated 750,000 residents within the District’s boundary. Whether you are among the property owners adjacent to a canal right-of-way or the majority of those located miles inland, the health, safety and welfare of our residents is of equal importance.

Approximately two years ago, the Lake Worth Drainage District established the Canal Rehabilitation Program to identify obstructed rights-of-way and systematically remove the encroachments. Rehabilitation efforts may include removal of vegetative encroachments, removal of structural and non-structural encroachments, dredging of the canal channel, and reshaping or reconstruction of the canal bank. During the canal rehabilitation process, no vegetation is removed from private property. No roadways are being constructed along the drainage canals, and no drainage canals are being enlarged. Learn the facts, not rumors, about canal rehabilitation at


[1]298.66 Obstruction of public drainage canals, etc., prohibited; damages; penalties. —(1) A person may not willfully, or otherwise, obstruct any public canal, drain, ditch or watercourse or damage or destroy any public drainage works constructed in or maintained by any district. (2) Any person who willfully obstructs any public canal, drain, ditch, or watercourse or damages or destroys any public drainage works constructed in or maintained by any district shall be liable to any person injured thereby for the full amount of the injury occasioned to any land or crops or other property by reason of such misconduct and shall be liable to the district constructing the drainage work for double the cost of removing such obstruction or repairing such damage. (3) Any person who willfully, or otherwise, obstructs any public canal, drain, ditch, or watercourse, impedes or obstructs the flow of water therein, or damages or destroys any public drainage works constructed in or maintained by any district commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
Control Structure

A Diversion And Impoundment System

The Lake Worth Drainage District (District) is considered a ‘Diversion & Impoundment’ water management system under the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) rule for consumptive water use. A diversion and impoundment system will divert surface water through a pump or water control structure, or a combination of surface and groundwater to a conveyance canal which the owner has legal control to operate and maintain for the purposes of providing for the reasonable and beneficial demands of secondary users.

There are two categories of secondary users, independent and dependent. The distinction between these two categories is related to the way the secondary user attains its consumptive water use right. Unless exempt, independent secondary users must obtain a consumptive water use right through their own South Florida Water Management District permit. Dependent secondary users may be incorporated into the Lake Worth Drainage District’s permit. An example of an independent user is a municipal water utility or residential community with retention ponds/lakes. Dependent users may be agricultural landowners or individual property owners who have historical water use rights.

The District’s main source of consumptive water use is allocated from SFMWD canals and Water Conservation Area 1. Because the water within the District’s canal system is used to recharge the surficial aquifer and some municipal wellfields, it is important to keep water levels in the canals at beneficial elevations to protect drinking water supplies.

Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Approved

On August 15, 2018 the LWDD’s Board of Supervisors adopted the fiscal year 2019 operating budget. The approximate $18 million budget reflects LWDD’s continued commitment to maintenance and operations with substantial resources appropriated for canal rehabilitation, and the refurbishment/replacement of major flood control structures. For more information, visit our website


Water Safety Around Drainage Canals

South Florida is an aquatic playground during hot summer months. The Lake Worth Drainage District’s canal system can appear to be an ideal place to cool-off and swim or spend a day fishing. However, it is important to understand that these inviting waterways can be dangerous.

District canals were not created for recreational use. They are designed to collect and convey stormwater to provide both flood control and water supply for residents and businesses within our boundary. Operation of this flood control system includes large water control structures which when opened can create a sudden change in a canal’s water elevation, as well as strong currents that may not be visible on the water’s surface. This current can catch swimmers and boaters by surprise. If close to an open structure, the undertow can create a strong enough force to pull swimmers and small boats under.

Canal rights-of-way do not have protective barriers, and banks may give way due to the soft sandy soil and rocks below. Once a person is in the water, it can be very difficult to climb out due to the steep side-slope of the canal bank. Depending on the time of day or location of the canal, cries for help may not be heard.

Many invisible dangers and submerged hazards exist in the canals like broken glass, scrap metal, bottles and cans, as well as wild animals. It is not unusual to see alligators, snapping turtles and snakes living in and near canals. Diving into a drainage canal is particularly dangerous because canal depths can vary significantly, and subsurface aquatic vegetation can tangle around extremities.

Stay safe and follow a few simple rules. Do not swim in a canal, instead head to the pool or beach. Keep a safe distance from the canal bank to avoid falling in the waterway. Always stay clear of water control structures. Visit the Drowning Prevention Coalition’s website for more water safety tips at

maintaining canal

What Is Meant by a “Well-Maintained” Canal?

The Lake Worth Drainage District’s canals exist for the purposes of flood control and water supply. Through its network of over 500 miles of drainage canals, the District provides stormwater management making the area suitable for residents, businesses and agriculture. Effective flood control is dependent on well-maintained canals and rights-of-way. But what defines “well-maintained”? A canal or right-of-way that some property owners may consider an eyesore is often considered well-maintained for effective flood control operations of the District.

Some of the necessary components for effective flood control include the free flow of water in the canal channel to divert excess stormwater from properties, and unencumbered canal rights-of-way to provide access for regular maintenance and emergency response. Through the process of aquatic vegetation removal and canal bank mowing, effective flood control is achieved.

There are numerous species of aquatic plants found within the District’s canal system. Some aquatic vegetation has the potential to slow the flow of water within the canal channel or large flood control structures. The Lake Worth Drainage District staff controls aquatic vegetation growth with the application of herbicides and mechanical removal. Although not esthetically pleasing to some property owners, algae in canals is not a threat to flood control. Because algae are very small plants that break apart easily, they can pass through drainage pipes and control structures. This is good news since the herbicide used to treat algae can be harmful to the water body.

Canal rights-of-way and banks are mowed approximately four (4) times a year. Flat-mowers mow the rights-of-way, and arm-mowers maintain the side slopes of the canals. High grass does not prevent access to canals and control structures or threaten flood control operations. Grasses and other vegetation can grow several inches in height before mowing crews return to an area. Since these areas are not fertilized or irrigated, a quarterly mowing schedule allows for the seeding and regrowth of grasses.

Although most property lines do not extend to the water’s edge, some property owners adjacent to the right-of-way may choose to maintain the grass to a higher degree through irrigation and more frequent mowing. However, this higher degree of maintenance is at their cost and no encroachments such as trees or shrubs are allowed.

Flood control and the maintenance it requires comes at a cost. All property owners within the Lake Worth Drainage District boundary, whether adjacent to a canal or miles away, are assessed at the same tax rate base on the amount of land owned. In 2019, the non-ad valorem assessment rate is $49.50 for a parcel equal to or less than an acre in size and is established by the Board of Supervisors. By providing well-maintained canal rights-of-way necessary for flood control operations, the Lake Worth Drainage District can achieve its mission of effective flood control at an affordable cost for all residents.