Drainage - Reasons For Artificial Drainage

Reasons For Artificial Drainage

Wetland soils may need drainage to be used for agriculture. In the northern USA and Europe, glaciation created numerous small lakes which gradually filled with humus to make marshes. Some of these were drained using open ditches and trenches to make mucklands, which are primarily used for high value crops such as vegetables.

The largest project of this type in the world has been in process for centuries in the Netherlands. The area between Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden was, in prehistoric times swampland and small lakes. Turf cutting (Peat mining), subsidence and shoreline erosion gradually caused the formation of one large lake, the Haarlemmermeer, or lake of Haarlem. The invention of wind powered pumping engines in the 15th century permitted drainage of some of the marginal land, but the final drainage of the lake had to await the design of large, steam powered pumps and agreements between regional authorities. The elimination of the lake occurred between 1849 and 1852, creating thousands of kmĀ² of new land.

Coastal plains and river deltas may have seasonally or permanently high water tables and must have drainage improvements if they are to be used for agriculture. An example is the flatwoods citrus-growing region of Florida. After periods of high rainfall, drainage pumps are employed to prevent damage to the citrus groves from overly wet soils. Rice production requires complete control of water, as fields need to be flooded or drained at different stages of the crop cycle. The Netherlands has also led the way in this type of drainage, not only to drain lowland along the shore, but actually pushing back the sea until the original nation has been greatly enlarged.

In moist climates, soils may be adequate for cropping with the exception that they become waterlogged for brief periods each year, from snow melt or from heavy rains. Soils that are predominantly clay will pass water very slowly downward, meanwhile plant roots suffocate because the excessive water around the roots eliminates air movement through the soil.
Other soils may have an impervious layer of mineralized soil, called a hardpan or relatively impervious rock layers may underlie shallow soils. Drainage is especially important in tree fruit production. Soils that are otherwise excellent may be waterlogged for a week of the year, which is sufficient to kill fruit trees and cost the productivity of the land until replacements can be established. In each of these cases appropriate drainage carries off temporary flushes of water to prevent damage to annual or perennial crops.

Drier areas are often farmed by irrigation, and one would not consider drainage necessary. However, irrigation water always contains minerals and salts, which can be concentrated to toxic levels by evapotranspiration. Irrigated land may need periodic flushes with excessive irrigation water and drainage to control soil salinity.

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