Field Guide for Maintaining Rural Roadside Ditches

4 ditch photos and the text: Field Guide for Maintaining Rural Roadside Ditches and protecting lakes and streams through proper ditch maintenance.

Field Guide For Maintaining Rural Roadside Ditches

Rural roadside ditches carry water away from roads and protect our infrastructure, but they also carry runoff to nearby lakes and streams. Problems in ditches can lead to impacts to water quality downstream.

By following the practical advice in this guide, people working on ditches can solve ongoing and irritating maintenance issues while protecting lakes and streams.

This 2014 guide does not meet Section 508 accessibility standards. Please contact one of the program staff members listed below for an alternative format or more information about the guide. 

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What is a ditch?

The main purpose of a roadside ditch is to protect the integrity of a road. Roads are designed so that rain and snowmelt drain off the road and to a ditch. Once the water reaches the ditch, it should flow along the ditch to its lowest elevation and eventually away from the roadway, which helps protect the stability of the road subgrade.

Project description

The Field Guide for Maintaining Rural Roadside Ditches was designed to provide guidelines for maintaining upland roadside ditches in rural northeastern Minnesota in a way that reduces sediment and pollutant loads to waterways. Using the information will also help you prevent erosion and maintain good water conveyance. This guide offers practical advice and illustrations to hands-on maintenance workers, ditch maintenance contractors and local (e.g., township) road supervisors who maintain ditches. These pages contain technical guidance for routine work in the field when there is limited access to survey equipment and other sophisticated tools. The guide will also help you determine when maintenance is beyond routine and additional help and advice should be sought.

Why Minnesota Sea Grant?

Minnesota Sea Grant's Field Guide for Maintaining Rural Roadside Ditches supports Sea Grant's mission to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources in order to create a sustainable economy and environment.

What have we done lately?

The Field Guide to Maintaining Rural Roadside Ditches was written in 2014 and continues to be in use in 2022.

Participants & audience

The Field Guide to Maintaining Rural Roadside Ditches is dedicated to the professionals, contractors, local government employees, and state road crews who perform routine ditch maintenance throughout northeastern Minnesota.


The Field Guide for Maintaining Rural Roadside Ditches was made possible by a grant funded under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (project #: GL00E00557-0) to the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute (contribution number 573) and Minnesota Sea Grant (publication number SH 14).


  • University of Minnesota, Duluth, Natural Resources Research Institute, Academic Institution (College and University)
  • Fortin Consulting, Industry and Business