Drainage is an important contributor to the high agricultural productivity of the Great Lakes region. As much as 50% of crop land in some states relies on drainage to remove excess water from the soil (Figure 1). Drainage on wet agricultural soils allows timely field operations, and helps plant growth to begin early and continue vigorously, to achieve the high levels of productivity common in the region. However, agricultural drainage has environmental costs. Drainage has had both positive and negative effects on water quality and the environment (Table 1).
Nitrate in surface water is a growing national concern, since it is harmful to children and infants in drinking water, and contributes to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. New drainage management systems have recently been developed to reduce nitrate loss from agricultural drainage. These include drainage water management, subirrigation, bioreactors, improved ditch management, and other promising technologies. Research, education, and coordination are needed to advance knowledge about these improved drainage management systems.
Percent of all crop land that is artificially drained in the six Great Lakes
states, according to the most recent national estimate (Pavelis, 1987)
Environmental benefits of drainage
Environmental costs of drainage
- Reduced soil erosion
- Reduced contaminants transported with eroded soil
- Loss of wetlands
- Increased nitrate contamination
The Great Lakes Regional Water Quality Program has a unique role in facilitating drainage management enhancement efforts, because of its location in six of the most highly drained states, and its emphasis on integrating research and extension to improve water quality. The following are some highlights from the Great Lakes Program’s support of research, education, and outreach on drainage management issues.
Regional Extension Bulletin
“Agricultural Drainage Management Strategies for Reducing Nitrogen Losses”
The Great Lakes Regional Water Quality Team has funded an effort to synthesize current knowledge about new drainage management systems in the form of a regional Extension bulletin. The regional drainage bulletin pulls together current research on drainage water management, specifically eight drainage technologies that can reduce nitrate loss from tile-drained fields. The target audience includes policy-makers, NRCS and other agency staff, contractors, and the agricultural community. The title is “Agricultural Drainage Management Strategies for Reducing Nitrogen Losses”. The bulletin is currently in draft form, and is expected in Fall 2005.
Linkages with National Drainage Management Efforts
The Great Lakes Regional Team facilitates coordination between the CSREES Water Quality Program and national drainage management efforts. National efforts include:
- The Agricultural Drainage Management Systems (ADMS) Task Force, a partnership of ARS, NRCS, CSREES and land-grant university researchers that focuses attention on new management practices that can mitigate the negative impact of drainage. The focus is in the six Great Lakes states plus Iowa and Missouri. Regional funding has facilitated regional participation in ADMS Task Force meetings, and Jane Frankenberger serves as the CSREES Representative on the ADMS Task Force.
- The NCR-207 Multi-state Research Committee “Drainage design and management practices to improve water quality”. The drainage management flagship integrated water quality project enhances research and extension collaboration, through participation of a number of Extension Specialists on the NCR-207 Research Committee.
Additional Proposed Actions
The following activities have been proposed in regional strategic planning efforts. Strategies are currently being discussed.
- On-line catalog of agricultural drainage management projects.
- Drainage E-Newsletter
- Generalized design curriculum for contractors and designers
Agricultural and Biological Engineering,
225 S. University St.
West Lafayette IN 47907