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Money down the drain, for a good purpose

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soils Resources has grant money available for farmers to upgrade drainage systems to new standards

August 30, 2012
By Steve Browne , Marshall Independent

Drainage tiling has been used to bring Minnesota land under cultivation since drainage was actually made of tile. But drainage technique has advanced, and the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) has grant money available for farmers to keep up with advances.

According to a release from BWSR, Clean Water funds provided by the state Legislature are available for fiscal year 2013 through BWSR to pay for practices and strategies aimed at reducing water quantity and quality impacts of surface and subsurface tile drainage.

"One of the significant changes is, past monies had to be used to retrofit existing drainage systems," said David Sill, board conservationist with the Marshall BWSR office. "In 2013 grant monies can be used for existing and new drainage systems."

Article Photos

Submitted photo
Russ Hoogendoorn, an engineer from the Southwest Prairie Technical Service Area of Soil and Water Conservations Districts, designed this control structure and bio reactor in Yellow Medicine County for installation at the outlet to drainage tile systems.

This summer, grant money totaling $700,000 from the Clean Water Fund was made available via BWSR to local government units in the Redwood-Cottonwood watershed area, according to documents supplied by BWSR, including $60,000 available to the Yellow Medicine and Lac qui Parle Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWDC) and $100,000 to the Redwood Cottonwood River Control Area.

The Redwood Cottonwood watershed area includes large parts of Redwood, Cottonwood, Lincoln and Lyon counties, and small areas of Yellow Medicine, Murray and Pipestone counties.

Lou Ann Nagel, district manager of the Yellow Medicine SWDC, briefed the Yellow Medicine County Board at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

"A farmer can apply for a 75 percent cost share contract to replace existing outlets, bio-filters and control structures," Nagel said.

According to Ian Olson, farm bill assistant with YM SWDC who briefed the Yellow Medicine County commissioners, conventional tile drainage systems can increase loss of soil nitrates and phosphates from soil, increase transport of herbicides, pesticides, and pathogens into receiving streams and increase downstream flooding and sediment transport.

Modifications of existing drainage systems to remedy these effects include: replacing open surface tile inlets that allow silt to infiltrate tile systems, installing wood chip bioreactors at the drainage outlets to denitrify the runoff water before it runs into ditches and receiving streams and installing control structures at the outlets that allow farmers to let the fields drain during wet months and retain subsurface water during the dry months.

"You're trying to dry the field out in the spring but retain water in the drier summer months when the crop needs water," Sill said.

BWSR is trying to help update drainage systems in cooperation with the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service.

"The federal government also had federal money to address these water control issues," Sill said. "There are a number of Clean Water Fund categories, one of which is a $1 million grant fund. But it needs to be applied for by Sept. 14 and has to be done through soil and water districts, watershed districts, counties, or joint powers boards of those organizations."



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