Drainage Water Recycling: Multi-Purpose Benefits to Producers and the Land

Spencer Pech, PE
Civil Engineer
June 5, 2023

When it comes to agricultural best management practices, the door is wide open for opportunity and innovation to meet modern demands. Even in the face of unpredictable weather patterns and changing conditions, it is possible to develop unique designs to actively manage agricultural water resources for the benefit of crop yields, water quality, and the ecosystem.

The timing of rainfall in the Midwest does not always align with crop water needs. Increasingly, trends show extreme conditions of excessively wet in the spring and critically dry in the summer. This water resource imbalance, along with increasing efforts to improve water quality, have driven the development of drainage water recycling technology.

Benefits of Drainage Water Recycling

This water conservation practice captures excess water in the fields from heavy rainfall, stores it in a pond, reservoir, or wetland, and reuses the stored water for crop irrigation when it is needed most. The recycling process captures tile drainage and/or surface runoff which keeps valuable nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen in the field, improving downstream water quality. This practice allows for more regulated water availability and improves soil and plant health which leads to increased crop yield potential. Additional in-field storage also improves downstream drainage capacity.

A study* conducted in Ohio tracked the benefits of water conservation practices over time. The report demonstrated a 19% average yield increase for corn over 37 years and a 12% increase for soybeans. In dry years, producers saw an average yield increase of 29% for corn and 25% for soybeans.

A good example of current progress can be seen in the partnership between ISG and the Iowa Soybean Association in their efforts to develop a framework for implementing water quality conservation practices that will store drainage water and reduce runoff from entering rivers and streams. The goal is to scale up in-field water storage for irrigation on suitable sites throughout priority watersheds in Iowa. Currently in the public outreach and engagement phase, ISG and Iowa Soybean Association are holding their first stakeholder engagement meeting in the North Raccoon River Watershed on June 15 to gain input from stakeholders and the community. Future phases will be focused on funding and implementation of designs.

ISG Water Drainage Services

Our in-house team supports a full range of drainage water recycling needs and offers services to put this practice in use. ISG water resources engineers can help landowners and agencies identify areas that may be suitable for storing water. When determining site eligibility, our team will consider topography, soils, existing drainage systems, field geometry for center pivot suitability, as well as other irrigation options. Additionally, our team of in-house grant and funding experts can help to determine potential funding resources to offset planning, design, and implementation costs.

To start planning your drainage water recycling project, contact Spencer Pech or Chuck Brandel.

*Source: Allred et al., 2014

Image Source: Purdue University, ConservationDrainage.net/MediaLibrary

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Spencer Pech, PE
Civil Engineer
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Spencer Pech, PE

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