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Using Active Management of Drain Networks to Improve the Great Lakes Ecosystem

Year Awarded: 2013
Awarded: $355,000
Team Leader:  The Nature Conservancy

This project explored the use of a novel, automated, real-time drain tile management network (RT-DWM) on agricultural lands to reduce nutrient and sediment inputs into the Great Lakes. The team examined techniques and potential environmental and agronomic impacts, explored the opportunities in the Great Lakes basin, identified the physical settings where a “smart drain network” can reduce nutrients, and evaluated the potential market for such services.

The project was broken up into two phases. In the first phase they determined where in the basin the technology can be deployed, and determined the environmental and agronomic benefits. Phase two focused on developing a path forward in increasing active drain management in the Great Lakes. The team identified knowledge gaps, assessed the legal, environmental and financial risk, and hosted a series of workshops and focus groups with drainage professionals and farmers.

This was a collaborative effort of engineers, drain officials, public agencies, farm and conservation groups, legal experts, and researchers from across the Great Lakes basin working together to improve coordination of public and private drainage, which has historically been uncoordinated across farm fields, public drains and watersheds. The team found that state drain codes provide broad management discretion and flexibility to drain managers, creating opportunities for innovation.