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January 10, 2017

Leslie Goodman
Cooperative Education Coordinator
University of Manitoba
Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Earth, Environment and Resources
125 Dysart Road
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
R3T 2N2

Dear Ms. Leslie Goodman,

The attached report, Tile (Subsurface) Drainage Systems: What they are, Why
they are Important, and How they Influence Nutrient Transport is being submitted in
association with the completion of the course ENVR 3980: Coop Work Term 1, in partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the course ENVR 3910: Coop Work Term Report 1.
For the duration of Coop Work Term 1, I was employed with the University of Manitoba
as a "Summer Student Research Assistant" within the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of
Earth, Environment and Resources. My supervisor was Dr. Genevieve Ali of the
Department of Geological Sciences in the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Earth,
Environment and Resources.

The purpose of this report is to provide background on tile drainage systems and
their usefulness as well as to characterize how tile drainage systems influence nutrient
transport from agricultural fields in relation to their capacity to have water quality
impacts. Key soil characteristics affecting nutrient transport on the tile-drained fields are
identified and conclusions regarding the importance of additional research are made. As a
Summer Student Research Assistant, I worked on projects in association with these
topics. This report has been prepared and written entirely by me and has not received any
previous academic credit at this or any other institution.

Sincerely,

Kelsey A. Margraf
Student #: 774 0150
Tile (Subsurface) Drainage Systems: What they are, Why they

are Important, and How they Influence Nutrient Transport

University of Manitoba

Written in association with the completion of ENVR 3980: Coop Work Term 1

completed at the University of Manitoba by Kelsey A. Margraf, and in partial fulfillment

of the requirements of the Faculty of Environment Co-Operative Education Option,

ENVR 3910: Coop Work Term Report 1.

Presented to Leslie Goodman, Faculty of Environment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

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Table of Contents

Abstract .........................................................................................................................4

1.0 - Background ...........................................................................................................5

1.1 - The Importance of Drainage on Agricultural Fields .................................5

1.2 - Drainage: Surface vs. Tile .........................................................................5

1.3 - Common Concerns and Considerations for Tile Drainage Explained .......8

1.4 - The Nutrient Enrichment/Eutrophication Problem ....................................9

2.0 - Tile Drainage and Nutrient Transport/Water Quality ............................................11

2.1 - Influences of Tile Drainage on Nutrient Transport ....................................11

2.2 - Factors Influencing Subsurface Phosphorus Transport ..............................13

3.0 - Conclusion ..............................................................................................................14

4.0 - References ...............................................................................................................17

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List of Figures

Figure 1: Water Table Development Comparison in Untiled vs. Tiled Agricultural Fields

and Illustrating Tile Pipe Position...........................................................................7

Figure 2: Clay (Top) and Plastic (Bottom) Tile Drain Pipes .............................................7

Figure 3: Root Development as a Function of Water Table Depth in Untiled vs. Tiled

Agricultural Fields ..................................................................................................7

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Abstract

This report provides insight regarding the importance of tile drainage systems for

increasing crop production, decreasing soil erosion, reducing annual variability in crop

yields, extending the cropping season, reducing the risk of damage to cropping equipment

and to soil which can occur under wet conditions, increasing the effectiveness of weed

controls, increasing nutrient availability, and increasing the amount of soil air in the root

zone on agricultural fields (Manitoba Agriculture). It is explained how tile drainage

systems accomplish these goals through lowering the water table and aiding in the growth

of crop roots, and brief descriptions of tile (subsurface) in comparison to surface drainage

systems are provided (Manitoba Agriculture). The issue of eutrophication in freshwater

aquatic ecosystems as a result of anthropogenic nutrient loading via both point source and

nonpoint source pollution is described (Khan & Mohammed, 2013), and the affects of tile

drainage systems on nutrient transport, particularly Phosphorus transport, in relation to

this issue is characterized. The importance of understanding how tile drainage impacts

Phosphorus (P) transport and concentrations is stressed in recognition of the fact that the

majority of stream waters that arise from agricultural watersheds in the midwestern U.S.

and Canada originate from tile drainage water (King et al., 2014). Key soil characteristic

factors that affect P transport to tile drains are identified as Preferential Flow, Phosphorus

Sorption Capacity, and Redox Conditions, and recommendations are given regarding

research that needs to be done to allow for the development of effective, comprehensive

management strategies and best practices so as to reduce the negative effects of

eutrophication world-wide.

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1.0 - Background

1.1 - The Importance of Drainage on Agricultural Fields

Over the past 15-20 years, increased interest in the practice of using tile

drainage systems in the Red River Valley region has been present due to a number of

factors including increased rainfall, seasonally high water tables, higher land values and

higher crop prices (Sands, Hay, Kandel, & Scherer, 2010). Improved drainage of

agricultural land is known to help increase crop production, decrease soil erosion, reduce

annual variability in crop yield, extend the cropping season, reduce the risk of damage to

cropping equipment and to soil which can occur under wet conditions, increase the

effectiveness of weed controls, increase nutrient availability, and increase the amount of

soil air in the root zone (Manitoba Agriculture). Overall, improved drainage on

agricultural fields improves soil quality and productivity, and by doing so can help to

decrease the amount of land across the world needed to be cleared and converted for crop

production (Manitoba Agriculture).

1.2 - Drainage: Surface vs. Tile

Natural drainage occurs across all landscapes and is a key aspect of the water

cycle, however, natural drainage as a result of landscape features is typically not adequate

for optimal crop production (Brouwer, Goffeau, & Hebloem, 1985). The two types of

artificial or man-made drainage are surface drainage and subsurface drainage. Surface

drainage is accomplished by the creation of slope gradients (Manitoba Agriculture) via

land grading, and networks of ditches, including shallow ditches (sometimes called "open

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drains") which typically drain into larger collector ditches/drains (Brouwer et al., 1985).

The ultimate goal of surface drainage is prevent damage to crops from water pooling after

precipitation events and to control run-off without causing erosion (Manitoba

Agriculture). Shortcomings of surface drainage include the fact that erosion can not be

avoided and therefore ditches tend to fill, requiring ongoing maintenance and spending,

and that surface drainage waters can have negative impacts on water quality as they are

not filtered by traveling through the soil profile (Manitoba Agriculture).

Subsurface or tile drainage, on the other hand, removes water from the root zone

of an agricultural field through a network of buried pipe drains (the "tile") placed below

the root zone, which have openings to allow water to enter the pipes and be channeled to

the edges of the field -- either to a network of municipal ditches or to water collection

ponds (Manitoba Agriculture) (See Figures 1 and 2). The purpose of installing the tile

drainage network is to lower the water table of the agricultural field to allow for the

increased growth of crop roots so as to maximize individual crop nutrient, water, and

oxygen uptake as well as crop growth throughout the season (Manitoba Agriculture)

(Figure 3). Tile drainage also decreases the risk of salinization of the root zone by upward

capillary action (Manitoba Agriculture).

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(Brouwer et al., 1985)

(Brouwer et al., 1985)

(Manitoba Agriculture)

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1.3 - Common Concerns and Considerations for Tile Drainage Explained

1.3. 1 - Could Tile Drainage Systems Over-Dry Agricultural Fields?

No (Manitoba Agriculture; Sands et al., 2010). Tile drainage does not remove

"plant-available" water from the soil profile, it only removes excess, "gravitational" water

that could be removed from the soil profile naturally if not for the presence of confining

soil layers (Sands et al., 2010). Even in dry years, tile drainage promotes root

development and increased capacity for water uptake, however, it is still possible that

during a dry year, at some point, less water may be available to crops in a tiled field than

an untiled field (Sands et al., 2010). Whether or not such a water shortage would have

negative impacts which offset the positive impacts of increased root growth is difficult to

evaluate, as it would be highly variable and site-specific (Sands et. al, 2010).

Nonetheless, tile drainage in otherwise poorly drained fields will make crop yields more

consistent on a year-to-year basis, and drainage control structures can be added to the tile

infrastructure to conserve water within the tile system during dry months (Sands et al.,

2010).

1.3.2 - Could Tile Drainage Systems Cause Down-Stream Flooding?

Much debate exists concerning this issue and the relationship of tile drainage to

down-stream flood occurrence is not yet well understood. However, it is widely agreed

that a simple "yes, it does" or "no, it does not" greatly oversimplifies a complex

phenomenon governed by many factors (Sands et al., 2010). Generally, for the Red River

Valley Region, it is thought that tile drainage increases the water storage capacity and

infiltration of soil (Manitoba Agriculture), thereby decreasing peak flows for moderate

precipitation or snowmelt events (which are often a concern for flooding), but overall

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tends to increase base flows (stream flows between precipitation/snowmelt events)

(Sands et al., 2010). It has been suggested that the total amount of water leaving a tiled

field compared to an untiled field can be greater by 10% (Sands et al., 2010) to 25%

(King et al., 2014). How these changes impact the occurrence of flooding is difficult to

quantify and is highly site-specific, however, adequate planning and land-use strategies,

such as the use of small dams and selected areas for water storage/ designation as

wetlands could help to minimize any threat (Manitoba Agriculture).

1.3.3 - Is the Cost of Installation of Tile Drainage Systems Worth the Benefit for

Farmers?

Yes. While in Manitoba installation tends to cost between $400 and $600 per acre

or higher, for some crop types pay-off from increased production can be realized within a

few years (Manitoba Agriculture). Site-specific cost benefit analyses are important, but

overall it is thought that the money saved long-term makes installation of tile drainage

systems worth the price.

1.3.4 - Can Tile Drainage Water Impact Surface Water Quality?

Absolutely. Attempting to characterize these impacts to the best extent possible

by a review of the current, relevant literature is the subject of the remainder of this paper.

1.4 - The Nutrient Enrichment/Eutrophication Problem

The excessive enrichment of aquatic ecosystems with anthropogenically-sourced

nutrients -- especially Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P) -- which is referred to as

eutrophication, is currently one of the primary water quality issues around the world

(Khan & Mohammed, 2013). Eutrophication limits the use of water for fisheries,

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industry, and drinking as it results in undesirable algae and aquatic weed growth, as well

as oxygen shortages from weed and algae decomposition (Khan & Mohammed, 2013).

Although Nitrogen plays an important role in some ecosystems, Phosphorus is seen as

the principle nutrient causing freshwater eutrophication, as the occurrence of natural

Nitrogen fixation by freshwater organisms makes P the limiting factor with the greatest

likelihood of success for control and management (Khan & Mohammed, 2013).

Anthropogenic Phosphorus inputs tend to come from two types of nutrient sources: point

sources, such as sewage and industrial discharges, and nonpoint sources, such as runoff

from agriculture, construction sites, and urban areas (Khan & Mohammed, 2013). The

nonpoint source of agricultural over-enrichment of soils with Phosphorus as a result of

excessive fertilizer and manure application is seen as a major driver of eutrophication in

many regions, with agriculture being seen as the largest source of nonpoint water

pollution around the world (Khan & Mohammed, 2013).

Drainage water from agricultural land contains both phosphorus and nitrogen, but

typically has much higher concentrations of Nitrogen (in the form of water-soluble

nitrates) than phosphorus, because phosphorus is typically bound to soil components

(Khan & Mohammed, 2013). Phosphate is not water soluble, so it moves through

ecosystems along with eroded soil (Khan & Mohammed, 2013). Analysis of the global

Phosphorus cycle concludes that P storage in soil and fresh water ecosystems is estimated

to be about 75% higher around the world than it was during pre-industrial times (Khan &

Mohammed, 2013). It should be noted that the negative impacts of Nitrogen are not

limited to eutrophication -- high concentrations of nitrates make water unsuitable for

drinking, and can cause water acidification (Khan & Mohammed, 2013).

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2.0 - Tile Drainage and Nutrient Transport/Water Quality

2.1 - Influences of Tile Drainage on Nutrient Transport

The water quality impacts of tile drainage are typically seen to be both positive

and negative (Sands et al., 2010). Tile drainage is generally viewed as an effective

method for reducing soil surface erosion, as tile drainage increases the water storage

capacity within the soil profile, thereby increasing soil infiltration capacity and

significantly decreasing the amount of erosion-causing surface run-off generated by

precipitation and/or melt events (Fraser & Fleming, 2001). Tile drainage is also thought

to reduce erosion by improving soil structure, as well as by allowing crops to be planted

earlier and therefore providing cover from wind erosion earlier than for untiled fields

(Fraser & Fleming, 2001). As a result of these phenomenon, the general consensus in the

literature, up until roughly the 1990s, had been that tile drainage reduces overall P,

potassium, organic nitrogen and ammonium losses from agricultural fields, because these

typically sediment-associated nutrients would not easily move through the soil profile to

be transported to surface waters via tile drainage water, while losses of soluble nitrates

and other soluble root-zone constituents were thought of as being elevated, due to their

increased transport to surface waters by tile drainage waters (Fraser & Fleming, 2001;

Sands et al., 2010). Installation of tile drainage systems was thought of as an effective

method to reduce nonpoint source sediment pollution (aside from contributing to

eutrophication, sediment-bound contaminants and the presence of large amounts of

sediments themselves in aquatic ecosystems are known to degrade aquatic ecosystem

health) (Weil & Brady, 2008) and P pollution, as P transport via subsurface flow

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pathways was thought to be negligible in comparison to surface pathways (King et al.,

2014). These assumptions were based not only on the knowledge of P's affinity to bind to

soil particles, but also because the concentrations of nutrients, including P, are much

higher in surface soil horizons than subsurface soil horizons, as a result of the application

of fertilizers and manure (King et al., 2014).

However, "over the past two decades, tile drains have been identified as a

potentially significant source of P in agricultural watersheds" (King et al., 2014).

While it is still generally agreed upon that the amount of P and soil lost through surface

runoff is reduced with the installation of tile drainage systems, as previously stated, the

total water yield arising from tiled agricultural fields is increased by roughly 10-25% in

comparison to untiled fields, and studies have shown that as a result of this, a majority of

stream flow arising from agricultural watersheds across the midwestern U.S. and Canada

is constituted by tile drainage waters (King et al., 2014). Keeping this fact in mind, and

through further study, it has been found that in some settings tile drainage may export the

same amount or more P as surface runoff, and that:

"elevated dissolved and particulate P concentrations from tile drains have been

reported across the midwestern United States, Canada, and Europe. Total P

concentrations in tile drains across studies are often highly variable in space and

time... but generally exceed critical levels for accelerated eutrophication..." (King

et al., 2014).

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2.2 - Factors Influencing Subsurface Phosphorus Transport

Given the facts that Phosphorus tends to bind to soil particles and that subsurface

soils tend to contain much less P than surficial soil horizons, it seems counterintuitive

that tile drainage water would contain such significant amounts of P. In this section, soil

characteristic factors which could potentially explain this phenomenon in different

settings are explored and summarized.

2.2.1 - Preferential Flow

"Preferential Flow paths," which provide a direct connection between the soil

surface and tile drains, are present in some soil types in the form of cracks/fissures and/or

biopores (King et al., 2014). Cracks/fissures tend to occur in clayey soils which shrink

and swell, and biopores occur as a result of biological activity, such as root growth or

burrowing by animals (Weil & Brady, 2008). In some cases, the high amount of

particulate (soil-associated) P present in tile drainage systems can only be explained by

the presence of preferential flow paths which allow P-associated sediments to be washed

down and into the tile. Such high concentrations of particulate P would not be possible if

matrix flow was the dominant flow path of water through such soil profiles (King et al.,

2014).

2.2.2 - Phosphorus Sorption Capacity

Various types and textures of soil have varying capacities to absorb Phorphorus.

The ability of a soil to absorb the Phosphorus applied to it, affects the fate of the

Phosphorus (King et al., 2014). Generally, when a soil has larger fractions of sand and

organic matter, less Phosphorus will be absorbed by the soil, and P has a greater

likelihood of being leached into tile drainage water (King et al., 2014). However, the

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relationship between the concentration of P in tile drainage waters and the Phosphorus

Sorption Capacity of the soil is not perfectly negatively linear in many cases, due to the

effects of preferential flow. Despite the fact that clayey soils with less organic matter

content have a greater P Sorption Capacity, the likelihood for preferential flow pathways

to develop in these soils can also be greater, and in some cases, the effects of preferential

flow override the effects of the Phosphorus Sorption Capacity of the soil (King et al.,

2014).

2.2.3 - Redox Conditions

In some tile drainage systems, drainage is managed ("controlled drainage") so that

water collected within the tile network can be used to help irrigate crops (King et al.,

2014). Some research suggests that high water tables and their associated reducing

conditions can increase the solubility and mobility of P, thereby increasing the potential

for P loss when true drainage of tile waters from the agricultural fields is permitted to

occur (King et al., 2014). In multiple studies, higher concentrations of dissolved reactive

P have been found in waters drained from fields using controlled tile drainage methods as

opposed to those using free tile drainage methods (King et al., 2014).

3.0 - Conclusion

In closing, the importance of tile drainage systems for increasing crop yields on

agricultural fields, as well as how tile drainage systems aid in the growth of crop roots so

that increased production is possible, has been discussed and explained. Background on

the issue of eutrophication in freshwater aquatic ecosystems as a result of anthropogenic

nutrient loading via both point source and nonpoint source pollution was given, and the

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affect of tile drainage systems on nutrient transport in relation to this issue was

characterized to the best extent possible using relevant and current literature.

Understanding how tile drainage impacts nutrient -- particularly, Phosphorus -- transport

and concentrations is key, due to the fact that the majority of stream waters that arise

from agricultural watersheds in midwestern U.S. and Canada originate from tile drainage

water. Key soil characteristic factors that affect P transport to tile drains were identified

as Preferential Flow, Phosphorus Sorption Capacity, and Redox Conditions.

A number of planning and management strategies which may help to decrease the

amount of P lost from tile-drained agricultural fields exist. Deeper tile drains have been

proven in some situations to acquire lower concentrations of P, but since deeper tile

drains tend to accumulate greater amounts of water overall, more research needs to be

done in order to determine if tile drainage placement is truly effective in helping to

manage P loss from agricultural fields (King et al., 2014). Certain tillage practices may

decrease P loss on tiled agricultural fields by disturbing preferential flow pathways, while

others may, in fact, serve to increase P loss (King et al., 2014). Phosphorus source

(inorganic vs. organic), application rate, application timing, placement, and soil test P

concentrations (which help to quantify the capability of a soil to supply P for plant

growth) have all been identified as key factors which also impact the transport of

Phosphorus to tile drains (King et al., 2014). More research must be conducted to better

understand the effects of these factors with regard to how their effects change with

varying climactic and soil characteristic variables, to better understand the hydrology of

tile-drained landscapes, and to explore how the creation of deterministic models may help

assess the risk of P loss on a site-by-site basis (King et al., 2014). Research into the

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above-listed areas is key for the development of effective, comprehensive management

strategies and best practices so as to reduce the negative impacts of eutrophication world-

wide.

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4.0 - References

Brouwer, C., Goffeau, A., Hebloem, M. (1985). Chapter 6 - Drainage, Irrigation Water

Management: Training Manual No. 1 - Introduction to Irrigation. Rome, Italy

:FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved from

http://www.fao.org/docrep/r4082e/r4082e07.htm

Fraser, H., Fleming, R. (2001). Environmental Benefits of Tile Drainage: Literature

Review. Ridgetown College: University of Guelph. Retrieved from

http://www.ridgetownc.uoguelph.ca/research/documents/fleming_drainage.pdf

Khan, M. N., Mohammed, F. (2013). Chapter 1 - Eutrophication: Challenges and

Solutions, Eutrophication: Causes, Consequences and Control. Springer

Netherlands, p. 1-15. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-7814-6_1

King, K.W., Williams, M. R., Macrae, M. L., Fausey, N. R., Frankenberger, J., Smith, D.

R., Kleinman, P. J. A., Brown, L. C. (2014). Phosphorus Transport in Agricultural

Subsurface Drainage: A Review. Journal of Environmental Quality.

Manitoba Agriculture. Soil Management Guide: Drainage Management. Province of

Manitoba. Retrieved from https://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/environment/soil-

management/soil-management-guide/drainage-management.html

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Sands, G.R., Hay, C., Kandel, H., Scherer, T. (2010). Frequently Asked Questions about

Subsurface (Tile) Drainage in the Red River Valley. University of Minnesota.

Retrieved from

https://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/water/publications/pdfs/faqs_of_tile_

drainageprint_61313.pdf

Weil, R. R., Brady, N. C., (2008). The Nature and Property of Soils (15th Ed). Pearson.

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