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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Water Protection > Water Planning Assistance > Ag Drainage

Agricultural Drainage, Wetlands and Water Retention

Why is it important the plan focus on this concern?

Adequate drainage can be a critical component of a successful farm operation. High crop and land prices have the potential of increasing conversion of pasture and forage land to row crops, which in turn may lead to the installation of new drainage systems or drainage improvements to existing systems. New drainage and drainage improvements represent an opportunity to design and install systems in ways that help reduce nutrient losses into surface water and positively affect the timing and flows of drainage water into surface waters. These efforts combined with wetland restoration and water retention initiatives can have positive impacts upon water quality in agricultural landscapes.

What actions are needed for Agricultural Drainage?

Generally, local plans should provide guidance, objectives, goals and action items for further coordination of agricultural water management issues and Conservation Drainage (CD) implementation efforts at the local level. A number of CD practices exist to address water quality issues. There is no single CD practice that will address all agricultural drainage issues. However, multi-purpose approaches to managing water quality and quantity on the agricultural landscape using a suite of CD initiatives is the best approach. It is recommended that:

  • Local plans discuss how CD practices can be utilized based on the drainage needs of the county coupled with associated water management issues.
  • Local drainage authorities be proactive in encouraging the use of CD practices and designs during repairs and improvements of existing drainage systems.
  • Redetermination of Benefits for ditch systems continue to be done in a proactive, consistent and systematic manner.
  • Buffer initiatives continue to be implemented consistently and according to current drainage law.
  • The local drainage authority continues to base drainage regulations on science and current best management practice knowledge.
  • The local drainage authority consider multipurpose drainage approaches as developed by BWSR.
  • Information on the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program should be provided and participation encouraged to access technical and/or financial assistance to County landowners and operators to implement drainage water management and establish buffers.

As a point of interest, a technical and scientific committee is currently addressing the effect of tiling upon flooding in the Red River Valley. Visit the Red River Basin Decision Information Network where two recent briefing papers can be viewed on this subject. This committee conducted an extensive literature review and developed a number of conclusions from the review in addition to a set of statements and recommendations from these papers. While this document and effort is specific to the Red River Valley, counties may find it useful to reference this report within the drainage discussion of draft water plan amendments or re-writes.

What actions are needed for Wetlands and Water Retention?

Properly locating wetlands and water storage or retention projects can be a strategic component of overall efforts to manage nutrients, sediments and water quantity issues. Counties may consider consulting with the Red River Watershed Management Board – Flood Damage Reduction Workgroup to determine how flood damage reduction, retention and mitigation efforts have progressed in Northwest Minnesota in conjunction with wetland restoration (via various state and federal programs).
The Red River Valley has a long history of managing floodwater and constructing impoundments to manage floodwaters and significant insight could be gained by corresponding with this organization regarding water retention. A Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee as part of this Board has also developed a number of scientific papers on a variety of issues related to flood damage reduction. Specifically, counties should consider:

  • Conducting/updating culvert inventories in conjunction with identifying where water retention projects can be constructed utilizing LIDAR and GIS technologies.
  • Identifying projects where tile water from public drainage systems can potentially be used to augment long-term water levels in wetland restorations for water retention purposes.
  • Working with local farmers on agricultural wetland mitigation banking initiatives and include agricultural sectors on overall wetland planning efforts.
  • Identify areas where constructed wetlands can be located for treating tile drainage water.

What resources may be available to accomplish the actions for Agricultural Drainage, Wetlands and Water Retention?

What area(s) of the county is high priority?

All agricultural lands of the county.