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News Release

Emerging conservation effort for ag land conserves, cleans water

Sarah Maxwell

Drainage Water ManagementWASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2013 – An up-and-coming conservation practice offered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service can help producers manage water on their farm, keep water clean and better cope with extreme weather like drought.

This conservation practice, called drainage water management, enables landowners to determine when and how much water leaves farms through underground tiles and drainage ditches.  

“Since landowners don’t need the same drainage intensity at all times during the year, this practice lets them use their drainage water in a way that’s most advantageous to them, their crops and the environment,” NRCS Senior Project Leader Paul Sweeney said.

Farmers can incorporate this practice, which involves installing a water level control structure on tile lines or even in open drainage ditches, on new or existing tile systems. Farmers, like Dennis Braeuninger who have successfully used drainage water management, can attest to the benefits.

The water level control structure gives landowners the ability to manage the subsurface water level by turning on and off their drainage systems. By doing this, landowners can improve water quality by minimizing unnecessary tile drainage and reducing the amount of nitrates or phosphates that leave farm fields.

Drainage water management systems can also be used to retain water that crops can use for growth and production later in the season, especially beneficial during a drought.

Potential yield increases, improved soil health and vegetative growth, and creation of wildlife habitat can also be achieved with this practice.

Drainage water management is best suited for flat, uniform cropland with a slope of 1 percent or less, but it may be considered for fields with slopes up to 2 percent, depending on how the drainage system is laid out.

“I know that eliminates a lot of operators with steep or sloped ground, but it makes perfect sense to thousands of producers who have flat ground,” said Paul Sweeney, who has helped lead the effort to increase the use of this practice. “Those are the producers we’d like to work with on drainage water management.”

For those with steeper ground, NRCS can offer other beneficial practices such as denitrifying bioreactors, saturated buffers or constructed wetlands.


NRCS offers technical and financial assistance for this practice, which begins with a conservation plan that includes drainage water management. Visit your local NRCS office or website for more information.