Drainage water recycling diverts surface and subsurface drainage water into on-farm ponds or reservoirs, where it is stored until it can be used by the crop later in the season. Tile drainage occurs mostly in the spring, while crop water use in mid- to late summer may result in periods when insufficient water is available. Drained water stored in the spring can provide value to crops in the summer.
Drainage water recycling can be a closed loop system where the drained water from a field is recirculated onto the same field, or water drained from one field can be used to irrigate a different field.
Irrigation may be through subirrigation that raises the soil water table by flooding the subsurface drain tiles (above), or sprinkler systems such as a center pivot, or other technologies.
Understanding the Practice and Benefits
- On-Farm Water Recycling as an Adaptation Strategy for Drained Agricultural Land by Frankenberger, J., B. Allred, D. Gamble, W.J. Baule, L. Brown. An extended abstract for the ASABE Climate Change Symposium, using yield results from the Ohio Wetland-Reservoir-Subirrigation systems to estimate future yield benefits of drainage water recycling. (2015, 3 pages)
- Keeping water on the land: how, where, and when? by G. Ali, University of Manitoba. Explores potential locations and timing for on-farm water storage in Manitoba, such as expanded ditches, ponds, wetlands, and demonstrates GIS analysis to identify appropriate locations. (2013, 38 slides)
- Cost-Benefit Analysis of Three Proposed Distributed Water Storage Options for Manitoba by Jason Dion and Matthew McCandless. A detailed report for the International Institute for Sustainable Development (2014, 45 pg)
- Livestock Reservoir Wetland SubIrrigation System by Lenawee Conservation District. A report describing the economic and environmental cost benefit of implementing a variation of the Wetland Reservoir Sub-Irrigation System (WRSIS) to treat livestock wastewater and sustain subirrigation in cropland.
- Controlled Drainage/Subirrigation (CDSI) Background Report and Design Guide by Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario. A 5-chapter online PDF report providing a research overview and design/operation guide for controlled drainage-subirrigation water table management (2008, 70 pgs)
- Effect of Optimal Water Management for Sustainable and Profitable Crop Production and Improvement of Water Quality in Red River Valley by North Dakota State University, University of Minnesota, and Buffalo-Red River Watershed District. A Final Report for a 3-year USDA-SARE funded project evaluating yield, water quality, and water balance for various drainage practices including controlled drainage and subirrigation (2011-2014)
NRCS Practice Information for Ponds and Irrigation Reservoirs
Currently NRCS does not have a specific conservation practice standard for drainage water recycling. Several pond and related standards may be relevant in certain areas.
- NRCS Conservation Practice Standard; Sediment Basin (National)
- NRCS Conservation Practice Standard; Irrigation Reservoir (National)
- NRCS Conservation Practice Standard; Irrigation System, Tailwater Recovery (National)
- NRCS Conservation Practice Effects Network Diagram; Irrigation System, Tailwater Recovery (National)
- NRCS Conservation Practice Standard; Ponds (National)
Farm Press Articles
- Innovative sub-irrigation: finding solutions in a closed-loop nutrient system. Drainage Contractor (May 2016) – Bakerlads Farm in Michigan use reservoir storage and constructed wetlands to manage wastewater from dairy operation that supply water for subirrigating cropland.
- Closed-loop management: System combines tile drainage, reservoirs and controlled drainage with irrigation for effective water management. Drainage Contractor (Oct. 2015) – Describes environmental and yield impacts of drainage water recycling system developed by Chin Tan of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
- New farm pond recycles drainage water. Corn and Soybean Digest (Dec. 2015) – Describes how and why an Iowa farmer installed an 18-acre pond to provide water for center pivot system
- Farmers use reservoirs to collect water, use in irrigation pivots. Corn and Soybean Digest (May 2015) – Four on-farm reservoirs in northeast Kansas are used to irrigate nearly 500 acres
- Combined drainage and subsurface irrigation cuts water use; management challenging. Corn and Soybean Digest (Feb. 2014) – Drainage water recycling systems are used in North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, and Indiana (Includes interview with Dr. Xinhua Jia, North Dakota State University)
- Part of the solution: How can contractors help mitigate nutrient runoff? Drainage Contractor (May 2014) – Describes the work of Dr. David Lobb in the Lake Winnipeg watershed in Manitoba to store drainage water in the landscape