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Modeling Performance of a Tile Drainage System Incorporating Mole Drainage

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

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 61(1): 169-178. (doi: 10.13031/trans.12203) @2018
Authors:   Patrick Tuohy, James O’Loughlin, Owen Fenton
Keywords:   Mole drainage, Rainfall, SEEP/W, Simulation, Soil physical properties, Subsurface drainage.


Mole drain performance is known to vary temporally and spatially due to variations in soil properties, installation conditions, mole channel integrity, and weather patterns. In fine-textured, low-permeability soil profiles, moles can be installed to supplement an underlying tile drain system. However, moles are often not included in such designs. The objective of this modeling study was to investigate the performance impacts of variations in mole integrity and design in such a soil profile during a range of rainfall event scenarios. A finite element software package (SEEP/W) was used to model a field site having (system 1) subsurface tile drains (0.9 m depth, 15 m spacing) with gravel aggregate(10 to 50 mm) and intersecting mole drains (0.6 m depth, 1.4 m spacing). The field site was subjected to a pedological survey to characterize the soil profile, while an on-site weather station and end-of-pipe flowmeters provided rainfall and discharge data from which the model could be calibrated. The calibrated model showed close agreement between modeled and observed subsurface discharge in the validation period (coefficient of mass residual = 0.12, index of agreement = 0.94, model efficiency = 0.74). The model was then used to evaluate the impact of three alternative designs: tile drains only, a common practice in similar soils (system 2); a design similar to system 1 but with the saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ks) of the mole-drained layer decreased to mimic a reduction in mole drain integrity and effectiveness (system 3); and a design similar to system 1 but with Ks of the mole-drained layer increased to mimic improved soil disturbance and fissuring during installation (system 4). These systems were analyzed using the calibration (event A) and validation (event B) rainfall events as well as two notional rainfall scenarios: a “fixed rainfall” scenario (event C) with a rainfall rate of 2 mm h-1 applied to all systems for 50 h and a “historical rainfall” scenario (event D) with annual (30 year) average daily values for the area (taken as the average monthly totals divided by the number of days per month) applied over a year. Results showed that the modeled designs exhibited similar relative behavior in all simulated rainfall scenarios. Systems 1 and 4 consistently outperformed systems 2 and 3 in terms of average and peak discharge and water table control capacity. Across rainfall events, system 2 (without mole drains) was the least effective and was seen to decrease drain discharge by an average of 63% and reduce mean water table depth by an average of 72% relative to systems 1 and 4. Results showed the importance of mole channels in supplementing tile drainage on fine soils, as well as the importance of mole integrity for optimal performance. Such a tool could provide decision support in the drainage system design process and assess the implications of design variations on cost, expected performance, and likely returns to the landowner by estimating seasonal variations in drainage discharge and water table position. Identifying and characterizing the major soil types on a farm through soil profile pedological descriptions and collation of real soil physical and meteorological data is essential to prescribe appropriate drainage designs and prioritize areas for drainage installation in light of technical feasibility and cost estimates. With high-resolution data, the software can be calibrated for other drainage system and climate change scenarios.

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