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DWM Information

Ensure Success with a Drainage Water Management Plan

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USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers technical and financial assistance for Drainage Water Management (DWM). Installation and implementation of DWM begins with a DWM plan. NRCS staff, private Technical Service Providers or professional drainage contractors can prepare your plan. NRCS program incentives can make managing farm tile drainage systems more productive and more profitable.

Drainage Water Management

DWM is the process of managing the timing and the amount of water discharging from agricultural drainage systems. A water level control structure installed in the tile line allows for management of the tile outlet elevation.

What is DWM?

DWM is the process of managing the timing and amount of water discharged from agricultural drainage systems. DWM is based on the premise that the same drainage intensity is not required at all times during the year. With DWM, both water quality improvement and production benefits are possible. Water quality improves when less tile drainage reduces the amount of nitrate that leaves farm fields. DWM systems can also retain soil moisture for crop use later in the season.

Get a Plan!

To successfully retrofit a DWM system on existing agricultural tile drainage systems, it is essential to have a DWM plan. Also, when applying for NRCS programs or financial assistance, producers are more likely to be funded if they have a DWM plan. A DWM system can help private landowners:

  • Protect and improve water quality

  • Potentially enhance crop production from more available soil-moisture and nutrients.

  • Reduce wind erosion and loss of valuable soil<

  • Enable seasonal shallow flooding for wildlife habitat

What is a DWM Plan?

A properly prepared DWM plan ensures factors of landscape, soils, slope and current drainage systems are taken into consideration and incorporated into the function of your DWM system. The following is needed to develop a DWM plan.

  • Farm and field identification

  • Field maps with field boundaries marked

  • Landowner goals and objectives

  • Tile map

  • Soil map

  • Detailed topographic map

Where Does DMW Work?

  • Land slope of 1 percent or less. The flatter the topography, the better.

  • The more intensive the tile system, the better

  • To be cost-effective, fields should be at least 20 acres.

What's In a DWM Plan?

DWM plans provide the location and size for each planned water-level control structure. To effectively use and benefit from DWM systems, it is crucial that operators have plans that include detailed operation and maintenance instructions. Tile drainage systems with water-level control structures are most beneficial if operated properly.

An essential component of a DWM plan is determining the area a field that will be impacted by each water-level control structure (zone of influence). The DWM plan identifies critical dates and target water levels necessary to accomplish management goals and objectives. Details of operation and maintenance include:

  • Target water elevations before tillage, planting or harvest that permit trafficable conditions to perform field work.

  • Target water elevations AFTER seasonal field work that permit infiltration of rainfall and bring water to crop root zones. Water level targets vary with crop, growth stage and soil type.

  • Target water levels near the soil surface or to a prescribed level during the FALLOW period.

The Golden Rule of Drainage

Only release the amount of water necessary to ensure trafficable conditions for field operations and to provide an aerated crop root zone. Any drainage in excess of this rule likely carries away nitrate and water that is no longer available for crop uptake.

Drainage Illustration

Lines labeled 600, 602 and 604 represent ground surface elevation levels.


Target Water Level Settings: Example Plan

DWM is the process of managing timing and amount of water discharges from agricultural drainage systems. A DWM plan provides settings for target water-table levels


Contact Information: Drainage Water Management
Dick Purcell, State Conservation Engineer
Phone: 573-876-0910
Fax: 573-876-0913