It’s a Balance: Protecting Crops and Water Downstream

Chuck Brandel, PE
,
Vice President – National Agricultural Drainage Expert
December 13, 2022

Much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota were formed by glaciers moving over the landscape, creating a region referred to as prairie potholes. Early agricultural practices were focused on draining the water from these potholes in order to farm the land. As our understanding of the delicate balance of ecological systems has advanced, our approach to balancing environmental practices with farming practices has also progressed.

Meeting Agriculture Goals + Protecting Impacts to the Environment

The Midwestern economy is built on agriculture. As technology has advanced there are less farmers with larger fields and larger equipment, which leads to tighter planting and harvesting schedules. A fully functional and rightsized drainage infrastructure system is critical to meeting growing season demands, maximizing the time crops are growing to produce successful yields. In farming, timing is everything. Each year, farmers are concerned about the amount of surface water on their land, either reducing or increasing crop yields. Too much water or not enough can have negative effects.

Previously standard agricultural drainage practices promoted farming as much land as possible and removing wetlands. These practices led to areas of the prairie pothole region experiencing increased erosion, resulting in sediment in rivers, streams, and lakes. This increased sediment poses risks to water quality and can prevent vegetation from growing in the water, affecting the natural food chain for wildlife habitat.

As water resource management experts, ISG is committed to meeting the goals of farmers as well as protecting rivers and streams. When feasible, ISG incorporates Best Management Practices (BMPs) into drainage projects to produce multiple water quality benefits and reduce erosion.

Infrastructure that Works + Works for the Environment

A successful example of this type of drainage and environmental balance was the recently completed drainage project for Martin/Watonwan County JD 9. The landowners had requested a substantial increase in drainage capacity at the outlet of the system which would require a 60-inch pipe to improve to the failing, undersized system.

To meet landowner capacity goals, while reducing impacts downstream, ISG designed and installed a large storage basin in the middle of the watershed and utilized land near the outlet to widen a channel to create additional storage. By incorporating these BMPs, the team was able to downsize the drainage infrastructure to a 48-inch outlet pipe. A benefit of this solution was that as water drained into the larger storage pond, even at a higher capacity, the pond filtered and slowed the flow downstream. Ultimately, the landowners received the capacity they needed, and water quality improved by replacing the failing tile system and adding storage—all while saving costs due to the smaller outlet pipe for the system. To gain a full understanding, watch this brief video of the implemented BMPs.

As the needs of agriculture and the environment change, ISG remains at the forefront of innovation to improve crop production and water quality—balancing goals for the benefit of all.

No items found.
Chuck Brandel, PE
Vice President – National Agricultural Drainage Expert
More from
Chuck Brandel, PE

Related Articles

Is Mass Timber Right for Your Next Building Project?

ISG recently attended the world’s largest gathering of mass timber experts, the International Mass Timber Conference, gaining new insights from experts in forest management, manufacturing, development, and construction.

Industry Insights

Are you properly protecting your employees from arc flash and shock hazards?

Maintenance, testing, and training have always been important elements of a successful facility electrical safety program, but recent requirements ensure they are being implemented according to a standard.

Culture
Industry Insights

Creating Learning Options for Water/Wastewater Operators

Public works systems are crucial for community well-being and functionality as they contribute to the quality of life for residents. With an in-depth understanding of regulations, environmental conditions, processes, and procedures, ISG aims to develop strategic partnerships with municipalities and deliver right-sized solutions for their unique systems.

Industry Insights

Navigating the MS4 Permit Program: How ISG Supports Communities Every Step of the Way

The management of stormwater runoff is a pressing concern for cities across the nation, and the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit program is a critical framework designed to protect water quality and our natural resources.

Industry Insights

Shared Visions, Shared Spaces: Making Use of Public and Private Partnerships for New Library and Housing Development

New Richmond, Wisconsin is on track to expand its library and housing options through a joint effort of the City, school district, and a private developer.

Industry Insights

Optimize Maintenance + Reveal Opportunities with Facilities Assessments

The Clay County Board of Supervisors (County) knew they needed to address facility repairs in their Administration Building, Courthouse, and General Services Center. While maintaining public buildings does not generate excitement, County leaders recognized that deferring upkeep of public facilities can cost more in the long run if left unaddressed and may result in limiting other more impactful projects.

Industry Insights