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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Innovative Approaches to Managing Drainage Ditches Can Save Growers Time, Money and Better Benefit Waterways, Ohio State Experts Say

February 23, 2012

ADA, Ohio – Innovative approaches to ditch management could save Ohio crop growers time and money while at the same time reducing the flow of phosphorus and nitrogen through ditches that eventually end up in stream water, rivers and ultimately in Lake Erie and beyond, Ohio State University experts said.

Over the past decade there has been increasing interest in managing drainage ditches not only to provide adequate drainage, but also to increase their stability, reduce the need for regular ditch maintenance and to provide conservation benefits, said Jon Witter, an assistant professor in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

While traditional drainage ditches are designed using a trapezoidal cross-section to drain agricultural lands and move water downstream, these ditches lack floodplains and can experience bank erosion and excessive sediment buildup, he said.

“These alternative ditch designs can be considered one type of in-stream best management practice,” he said. “And, if properly designed, they also have the potential to create and maintain better habitat and water quality conditions for the waters into which our drains flow into, such as the Gulf of Mexico or Lake Erie.”

Witter will join Rafiq Islam, who holds joint appointments with Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, to discuss research that they and their colleagues with Ohio State and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources have done on the phosphorus issue during a workshop March 6 at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference.

The workshop, which begins at 3:50, is funded by North-Central Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education and will offer strategies and tips for growers on everything they’ll need to know about managing drainage ditches to remove phosphorus, Islam said.

The research includes working on new procedures to fractionate total soil phosphorus into different fractions (6 to 7) and measuring their transformations, solubility and availability related to water pollution, he said.

“Some of the questions we’ll look at include how phosphorous transforms from insoluble form to soluble form, or vice-versa, in the ditches,” Islam said. “And how the drainage ditches trap sediments and phosphorus from agriculture fields after flooding or rain and how they can be immobilized to clean our water systems of algae pollution.”

Among the topics, Islam said, will be how phosphorous transforms from an insoluble form to a soluble form, and vice-versa, in ditches; how drainage ditches trap sediments and phosphorus from agricultural fields after flooding or rain; and how sediments and phosphorus can be immobilized to cut down on algae pollution in water.

The Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference is sponsored by OSU Extension, OARDC, Northwest Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Ohio No-Till Council.

The full schedule and registration information can be found at Participants may register online or by mail. Registration for the full conference is $80 (or $60 for one day) if received by Feb. 24. Information is also available in county offices of OSU Extension.

Tracy Turner
Khandakar Rafiq Islam, Jonathan D Witter