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Controlled Drainage for Agricultural Water Management
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Controlled Drainage for Agricultural Water Management

For farmers and agricultural producers, effectively managing drainage and irrigation is crucial for maximizing crop yields and profitability. One innovative approach that is rapidly gaining popularity is controlled drainage – a subsurface water management strategy that gives farmers advanced control over drainage outflows.

What is Controlled Drainage?

Controlled drainage is a water management practice that uses control structures to actively manage the water table level in agricultural fields. It involves strategically regulating the outlet elevation of subsurface drainage systems through adjustable water control structures.

With controlled drainage, farmers can conserve water in the soil profile during dry periods and drain excess water during wet periods. By dynamically managing the soil’s water retention and drainage, controlled drainage systems allow for optimized moisture conditions for crop growth.

Other names for controlled drainage include drainage water management, variable depth drainage, and adjustable depth drainage. Whatever the terminology, the concept involves intelligently controlling subsurface drainage outflows to achieve agronomic and environmental benefits.

How Does Controlled Drainage Work?

A controlled drainage system builds off traditional agricultural drainage infrastructure while adding a key component – adjustable control structures at drainage outlets.

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Subsurface drainage systems, commonly called “tile drainage”, remove or spread excess water from the soil profile through networks of perforated pipes or tiles buried below the ground surface.

With controlled drainage, adjustable gates or stop logs are installed at the outlets. Farmers can control the drainage outlet depth by raising or lowering the gates. This regulates how much water is retained in the soil.

Closing the gates in drier periods raises the water table, storing soil moisture for crop use. Opening the gates during wet periods allows for drainage and prevents oversaturation. Farmers can optimize field conditions by strategically adjusting outlet elevations in response to weather and crop needs.

Advanced control structures are automated in some high-tech configurations, allowing for precision water table management through electronic controls. But even manual control structures provide enhanced field drainage control compared to free drainage systems.

Unlock your fields’ true potential with controlled drainage.

Key Components of a Controlled Drainage System

While specific configurations vary across site conditions and design parameters, controlled drainage systems share some common components:

  • Subsurface drainage tiles/pipes – Perforated tubing installed underground collects and transports excess water from the soil profile. Plastic corrugated piping is most common today.
  • Water control structures – Installed at drainage outlets, these adjustable gates or stoplogs control drainage outflow depths. Manually adjustable or automated.
  • Drains and ditches – Transport excess drainage water from field outlets to downstream ditches, streams, or storage structures.
  • Monitoring wells – Observation wells to monitor the water table level and soil moisture conditions across the field.
  • Data monitoring/control – For high-tech automated systems, electronic monitoring, and control of water levels.

Proper site assessment, drainage system design, and integration of control structures tuned to specific soil and field conditions are key to effective controlled drainage implementation.

Benefits of Controlled Drainage Systems

The strategic water management that controlled drainage enables offers numerous agronomic, economic, and environmental benefits:

  • Increased crop yields – By providing crops access to stored soil moisture during dry periods, controlled drainage allows plants to maintain enhanced growth during moisture stress. 
  • Maximized water use efficiency – Farmers can optimize moisture levels for plant needs during the growing season while reducing excess drainage flows. Valuable water resources are conserved and utilized more efficiently.
  • Improved soil health – Controlled drainage creates more favorable soil moisture, temperature, and aeration conditions for enhanced biological activity in the root zone.
  • Lower irrigation needs – Storing excess rainfall in the soil profile reduces supplemental irrigation needs during dry spells. Producers save money on energy costs for pumping irrigation water.
  • Increased farm revenue – With higher yields, reduced drainage flows, lower irrigation costs, and environmental benefits, controlled drainage boosts farm revenue and profitability. 

Don’t let oversaturated fields drag down your bottom line. Ellingson’s controlled drainage can help.

Why Install Controlled Drainage?

With the range of agronomic, economic, and environmental advantages, it’s easy to see why controlled drainage a worthwhile investment for many farm operations is.

Controlled drainage empowers farmers to move from merely coping with excess drainage to proactively managing soil water conditions. It provides a powerful tool for optimizing the soil environment in response to weather patterns and crop needs.

While upfront investment is required, the benefits often provide attractive returns. And cost-share funding is sometimes available to help offset installation costs.

In addition to boosting yields and profitability, controlled drainage benefits the wider environment and community. Reducing agricultural runoff helps protect lakes, rivers, wetlands, and downstream water quality.

As water resources become more scarce, controlled drainage enables producers to grow crops more sustainably and efficiently. Smart water management will only become more critical for future food production as climate pressures mount.

Implementing Controlled Drainage on Your Fields

Transforming fields to controlled drainage is a complex process that must be carefully executed by our experienced agricultural drainage experts. If you are exploring controlled drainage installation, here is an overview of key steps:

  1. Site Assessment and Planning: A thorough evaluation of field conditions will determine if your site is suited for controlled drainage and inform planning.
  2. System Design: We will handle detailed system design tuned for your fields’ parameters.
  3. Installation and Construction: Proper installation of drainage infrastructure and control gates is crucial for success.

Partner with Ellingson and take your drainage infrastructure to the next level.

Optimizing Drainage with Ellingson

Whether you’re looking to improve existing drainage, correct wet spots, prevent erosion, incorporate controlled drainage, or another objective – Ellingson has the solution. Our full suite of services includes:

  • Professional drainage assessments and topographic surveys
  • Customized system layout and design
  • GPS-guided steel or plastic drainage tile installation
  • Water control structures and drainage water management
  • Erosion control and construction site runoff solutions
  • Ponds, sediment basins, and other water impoundments
  • Excavation, grading, dirt work, and soil conservation
  • Experienced drainage repairs and maintenance
  • Remote drainage monitoring technology
  • GPS mapping and agricultural data analysis

To explore your drainage challenges and controlled drainage opportunities, contact Ellingson today to speak with one of our drainage experts and schedule your free site assessment. Our team is ready to partner with you to take your water management and drainage infrastructure to the next level.

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