Most homeowners want to improve their landscaping at some point. Even those who won't change everything can find spots where water sits or where heavy rains cause erosion. A yard drainage system applies rules developed by landscapers to use the "free" water that falls from the sky. By draining standing water areas and conserving your use of community water sources, you will be a good neighbor as well. Spend some time watching where water goes in your yard, and then plan ways that you can use more of it in your little corner of the water cycle.
Make a map of your yard using a copy of your survey plat or another accurate map. Begin by adding geographic features and their heights.
Locate the direction of flow for rainwater. Water should flow toward the storm sewer or any other water collection feature, like a stream or pond. Water that falls on your yard should flow toward that collection feature, but the best drainage plans provide ways for the water to be used by plants or absorbed by the underlying soil in the yard before it runs off.
Add creeks and swales---long, low areas that carry water, often located between yards or along backyard boundaries. Plan to add ground covers or gravel "streams" for swales and wetland plants for streamside planting so that you control erosion and catch runoff water. Consider a pond for retention of storm water.
Note areas around buildings where water may seep into foundations. Soil should drop away from walls with a slope of about 6 degrees. Plan extra soil, gravel or French drains around buildings to keep water out of basements and away from concrete and wood foundation elements. Add rain barrels or cisterns to your plan to collect rainwater for use in the garden and thus conserve your use of city water and limit runoff.
Measure steep slopes and add features to your plan to shorten and flatten them with terraces using cross-tie or stone retaining walls. Design terraces with low-maintenance, thick-rooted plants like daylilies and hostas to help keep water in place.
Check out low spots in your lawn. If a foot-deep hole filled with water once and then filled again does not drain quickly, plan ways to connect it to other low spots in a swale. Alternatively, you can improve drainage by filling a 4-foot hole with 3 feet of gravel and then leveling it off with topsoil.