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Drainage issues and answers

Although drainage benefits agricultural production, there are concerns about its potential environmental impact. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the negative impacts, while retaining its agronomic benefits. 

Drainage issues and ways to address them

Subsurface drainage systems have a positive impact because they generally decrease the amount of surface runoff, reducing the loss of substances generally transported by overland flow.

However, there are concerns about the potential negative impacts of drainage on the:

  • Hydrology of watersheds.

  • Water quality of receiving water bodies.

  • Amount and quality of nearby wetlands.


Management practices

Many current drainage research and Extension programs throughout the country are trying to find ways to reduce the potential environmental impacts of agricultural drainage, while retaining its agronomic benefits.

Some management practices have been effective, and others are presently being examined. We describe both below.


Research and other efforts


Lowell Busman, former Extension educator and Gary R. Sands, Extension engineer


The authors wish to thank the many institutions, agencies and organizations that have generously contributed to furthering science and education initiatives in drainage. These include the Minnesota Land Improvement Contractors Association, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, many departments and centers of the University of Minnesota, agricultural commodity groups and drainage pipe and equipment manufacturers. A special thanks to the many individuals who reviewed earlier drafts of this content and provided valuable insights.

Reviewed in 2018

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