Increase in Rainfall Looms Large in High Court Neighbours’ Dispute

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In a head-turning decision, the High Court has acknowledged that increased rainfall arising from environmental changes was one cause of excess seepage of water from a landowner’s field into a neighbouring domestic garden. David Watson looks at the case.

The garden owner sought an injunction and damages against the landowner, alleging that the increased seepage arose from the landowner’s negligence and amounted to a nuisance. He contended that his garden had, as a result, been transformed into an unkempt carpet of moss and that a number of his trees had died.

Ruling on the matter, the Court found that there had been an increase in the volume of water flowing into the garden from the field. It was damper than it used to be, and ponds tended to form, especially after heavy rainfall. However, the problem was not such as to render the garden waterlogged.

The Court found that the excess water seepage into the garden did not arise from an inefficient drainage system on the landowner’s holding. Rather, it was caused by a combination of the removal of a water-thirsty orchard by the landowner’s predecessor in title and an increase in annual rainfall in the area.

Noting that there should be give and take between occupiers of land, the Court found that the change of use from an orchard to pasture was entirely reasonable. The increased rainfall and the flow of water from higher to lower ground – the garden was at the bottom of a hill – were natural occurrences.

The garden owner’s claim succeeded only in respect of a waterway in the field that had become clogged with vegetation so as to interfere with the operation of his septic tank and soakaway. The landowner was ordered to pay damages equivalent to the costs involved in connecting the tank to the sewerage mains.

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