Experts Discuss State of the Art in Drainage Water Quality

Nearly 80 water quality experts met last week in Champaign, Illinois, to discuss the latest in farm drainage water quality. The occasion was the joint annual meeting of the North Central Extension and Research multi-state committee on drainage design and management and the Agricultural Drainage Management Systems Task Force. Illinois’ 10 million acres of tile drainage means it has more tile-drained acres than any other state, thus providing the ideal backdrop for the meeting.

“We’re bringing together the best ‘drainage minds’ in the country,” says University of Illinois assistant professor of water quality, Laura Christianson. “That includes researchers, Extension personnel, and leaders in the drainage industry. It’s a chance for us all to catch up and learn from one another what’s new, what’s working, and what’s not working so well.”

The big topics this year were saturated buffers, controlled drainage, and denitrifying bioreactors, all of which reduce nitrogen loss from tile drains. Controlled drainage additionally reduces the flow of drainage water that moves downstream without negatively influencing crop yields. Researchers from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I are actively engaged in answering research questions about these conservation drainage practices, and are working to understand how they can help Illinois producers meet nutrient loss reduction goals.

Producers may be encouraged to hear that some conservation drainage practices are being fast-tracked by agencies that can help interested landowners with financial and technical assistance. Ruth Book, state conservation engineer with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, talked about how NRCS is approaching conservation drainage.

“Normally, NRCS waits until most of the research has been done before establishing official standards for conservation practices,” Book says. “Saturated buffers and denitrifying bioreactors show so much promise that we rolled out our conservation practice standards earlier in the process than usual, while we are still in the learning phase of the development. In this continuous learning process, we have already identified criteria that need to be changed, and have updated our saturated buffer standard accordingly.”

Attendees were also updated by representatives from industry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and land-grant researchers from 11 states. Five U of I ACES graduate students presented research posters on topics ranging from the use of cover crops to the application of LiDAR imagery for drainage design.

Source: University of Illinois

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