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Chapter 13: Drainage Principles and Surface Drainage

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Pages 303-320 (doi:10.13031/swce.2013.13) in Soil and Water Conservation Engineering, 7th Edition . Copyright 2013 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Mich.
Authors:   Rodney L. Huffman, Delmar D. Fangmeier, William J. Elliot, Stephen R. Workman
Keywords:   Soil, water, conservation, environment, Drainage Principles and Surface Drainage, 13.1 Drainage Benefits, 13.2 Environmental Impacts of Drainage, Surface Drains, 13.3 Bedding, 13.4 Random Field Drains, 13.5 Parallel Field Drain System, Drainage Ditches, 1

Introductory paragraphs: Variable climatic patterns and soil characteristics combine to cause many areas to exhibit either excess or deficit soil water conditions. Few areas can maintain optimal growing conditions without some additional drainage or irrigation. In fact, drainage and irrigation practices have been used for thousands of years to create or enhance productive lands. Some notable examples of large drainage projects are the polders in Holland and the fens in England, which are low lands reclaimed from the sea. Much of the Corn Belt or upper Midwest in the United States was drained and made productive following the passage of the Swamp Lands Acts of 1849 and 1850. The drainage in the Midwest was instigated by medical professionals, who realized that it reduced malaria even before the mosquito was the known cause. Good soil drainage has long been recognized as essential for permanent irrigated agriculture to alleviate salinity problems in areas such as the western U.S., Egypt, and India. With the current trend of world population increase, additional land may be needed for production of food and fiber.

Drainage is the removal of excess water from the soil surface (surface drainage) or from the soil profile (subsurface drainage). In most cases, surface drainage represents the easiest and least expensive drainage method. Excess water can be directed to shallow drains or ditches by using the natural topography of the area to remove the water. Some of the most recognizable surface drains are the ditches that drain roads and highways.

Many areas contain a naturally high water table. Although good surface drainage can be used to remove excess surface water, subsurface drainage consisting of a series of drainage ditches and possibly buried perforated pipe may be necessary to lower the water table to a desired position. Poorly drained lands that require subsurface drainage are usually topographically situated so that when drained they may be farmed with little or no erosion hazard. Many soils having poor natural drainage are, when properly drained, rated among the most productive soils in the world.

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