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Conservation Corner

Drainage water management

Thu, March 24, 2011

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 Conservation Plan. Your plan can be prepared by local NRCS Field Office staff, private Technical Service Providers or a professional drainage contractor. NRCS program incentives can make managing farm tile drainage systems more productive and more profitable.

What is DWM?

DWM is the process of managing the timing and the 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 benefits are derived by minimizing unnecessary tile drainage, reducing the amount of nitrate that leaves farm fields. DWM systems can also retain water in fields that could be used for crop production later in the season.  Or for “time share wetlands from the November to late February time frame for waterfowl use where the sites are applicable that water can be brought to the surface.  Each site is different.

Get a Plan!

To successfully retrofit a DWM system on existing agricultural tile drainage systems, it is essential to have a plan of action—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. When successful a DWM plan can help landowners:

• Protect & improve water quality

• Potentially enhance crop production from more available soil-water & nutrients

• Reduce organic matter oxidation to retain soil productivity & minimize atmospheric carbon release

• Reduce wind erosion & loss of valuable soil

• Enable seasonal shallow flooding for wildlife habitat

Where does DWM work?

• The flatter the topography, the better

• The more intensive the tile system, the better

• To be cost-effective, fields should be 20 acres or more in size

What’s In 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 information is needed to develop a DWM plan:

• Farm & field identification

• Tile map

• Field maps with field boundaries marked

• Soil map

• Landowner goals & objectives • detailed topographic map

An essential component of the DWM plan is a determination of the area of the field impacted by each water level control structure (zone of influence). The DWM Plan will clearly identify critical dates and target water level elevation levels needed to accomplish management goals and objectives. Details of Operation and Maintenance include:

• Target water elevations PRIOR to tillage, planting or harvest operations. Manage water levels that permits trafficable conditions to perform needed field work.

• Target water elevations AFTER seasonal field work. Manage water levels 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 level prior to and during HARVEST.

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

The benefits of Drainage water management are not only for water quality and reduction of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico but also for wildlife habitat.  Imagine if you can seasonally flood a minimum of 6” of water in the fall after crop harvest for waterfowl.  This would be a wonderful time share “wetland” that would allow one to have hunting opportunities or just enjoyment of viewing wildlife. 

NRCS is offering an incentive payment of $32.10 per acre of cropland affected that is managed for Drainage water management, not to exceed $6,000 for a one time payment.  In addition NRCS is offering an incentive of $1400 for development of a Drainage Water Management plan.  In addition if water control structures are needed cost share is available. 

Is YOUR land suitable for a DWM System?

Visit your county NRCS office for a field evaluation!