Managed Drainage

Managed drainage is simply a method that manages the discharge from a subsurface drainage system.

For the past 40 years, the agriculture industry has used plastic pipe as a drainage solution. Using plastic drainage pipe systems has allowed producers to improve crop yields in areas that were not able to produce as much in the past because of poor drainage. The ever-growing need for more food to feed the world's population coupled with unpredictable weather patterns will continue to motivate producers to lessen the risk of crop failure due to poor drainage. Simultaneously, these same producers have increased the use of fertilizers. The combination of the increase in fertilizers and drainage intensity has created an unintended consequence—nutrient-enriched discharges from the drainage tile lines. Currently, Springfield Plastics, in conjunction with the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), are now tackling this issue head-on by evaluating technologies that will address the nutrient-enriched discharges. These technologies are all under the broad term known as managed drainage.

Managed drainage is simply a method that manages the discharge from a subsurface drainage system. The golden rule of drainage is to only release the amount of water necessary to allow field operations and enable oxygen to reach the plant roots. Any drainage that does more than the golden rule risks discharging excess nutrients into the environment. The commonly held perception that drainage is just about "getting water away" needs to shift now to how to better manage the drainage of water.

Managed drainage is not a one-solution effort. There are currently three types of technologies in managing drainage: drainage water management systems, bioreactors, and saturated buffer strips.

Benefits of a Managed Drainage System

The benefits of a managed drainage system are:

  • Reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous levels
  • Conservation of water
  • Increase in yield
  • Allows a producer to manage the water table level on their terms
  • Offers positive environmental benefits

Drainage Water Management Systems

Drainage water management (DWM) manages the timing and amount of water discharged from agricultural drainage systems. Water quality benefits are possible by minimizing unnecessary tile drainage and reducing nitrate amounts that leave fields. DWM systems can also retain water needed for late-season crop production. It allows producers to control water delivery by holding water in root zones when crops need it and draining it when there's too much.

Drainage Water Management Systems


A bioreactor consists of wood chips being put in a trench. The trench goes in after the control structure and is filled with wood chips. The control structure is used to vary the speed of the water flow through the wood chips, which do the work to remove the nitrogen.


Saturated Buffer Strips

A saturated buffer system has a control structure that diverts the flow from the outlet to a lateral distribution line. The lateral distribution line runs parallel to the buffer and as the water is diverted to this line a saturation occurs. As this saturation or lateral water movement through the buffer occurs the vegetation naturally removes the nutrients in the water.

Saturated Buffer Strips

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