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HuronRiver

Why Farmers in Michigan, and Elsewhere, Should Improve Drainage Waterways

Farmers in Southeast Michigan may have incentive to pursue more efficient and more eco-friendly drainage methods to their fields in the near future. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program announced $1.8 million in aid to farmers and other regional partners for work done to protect the Huron River watershed.

“We’re very excited about these additional Farm Bill funds coming to our watershed to boost land protection and stewardship efforts,” says Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council. “The river is only as healthy as the lands that drain to it.”

We don’t blame her for being excited, however we want to point out that the second part of her statement isn’t entirely accurate. Although we encourage everyone to do as much as possible to keep their land clean, there are ways that proper agricultural drain processes can help negate human errors when it comes to keeping soil pure.

There are several means by which agricultural land can have a negative impact on local watersheds. One is through over-fertilization. Excess nitrates and other chemicals are washed by rainwater into drainage systems that deposit into the local waterways. Oxygen is depleted, local plants and fish die, and the drinking water becomes hazardous.

Of course, even if the soil is as clean as can be, it can still create problems for watersheds and rivers such as the Huron River. If too much soil enters the water supply, the impact can be just as drastic as more hypoxic material.

We’re not ones to announce a problem without offering a solution. So what’s the answer that we alluded to earlier?

Grass waterways allow natural drainage to occur while minimizing the amount of soil, fertilizer and other unnatural elements that might otherwise get into the water. Emphasis is on the word “grass.” The root systems of this simple plant collects excess fertilizer to help itself grow, while providing erosion control that keep soil from sliding into the water.

A bridge over the Huron River.

This begins with a dispersed design, or a waterway that has gradual slope. There are many benefits to this design. For one, it allows grass to grow, unlike on steeper profiles. The more gradual the hill, the less likely for wind or rain to cause little landslides or further erosion. And, perhaps best for farmers, dispersed waterways will allow them to drive their tractors and other machinery across the channel when the water is at a normal depth (these waterways only run high after an excess of rain).

If you want to create a grass waterway, you’ll need a good erosion control blanket, which will prevent erosion while the grass is growing, and even help the grass seed germinate. We’ll throw out our own Nancy’s Kritter Kind Blankets as just such a solution.

And what do farmers and the public have to gain? Farmers will benefit from well-managed drain systems and—in the case of the Huron River example—more than 500,000 people along the river will be thankful for healthy drinking water.

But don’t just take our word for it; take it from Douglas Koop, the executive director of Legacy Land Conservancy in Ann Arbor, MI.

“This partnership will bring significant resources to our region for agricultural best-management practices,” he said. “And especially for the permanent conservation of significant farmland.”

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