SDSU Extension Water Management Engineer, Chris Hay is among a group of researchers from the nation's Land Grant universities to participate in a $5 million federally funded research project that will examine the economic and environmental benefits as well as costs of on-farm water storage.

Hay's research will specifically focus on drainage water management. "Unlike conventional drainage systems, this practice conserves water by managing the outlet to store additional soil water at times when drainage isn't needed," said Hay, who is also an SDSU Assistant Professor in the Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering Department.

The research is funded by the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Water for Agriculture challenge area.

Other universities involved in the research project titled, Managing Water for Increased Resiliency of Drained Agricultural Landscapes, include: Purdue University, Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, Ohio State University, University of Missouri, North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota as well as the U.S.D.A's Agricultural Research Service.

"The objective is to advance three innovative practices that can address the dual goals of reducing crop losses from increasing drought and improving water quality from drained farmland," Hay said.

More about the research

In addition to drainage water management, the other areas funded by this grant that will be researched by partnering universities include:

  • Saturated buffers: These store water within the soil of field buffers by diverting tile water into structures that raise the water table and slow outflow. Early results of a study indicate they can be effective in removing nitrate from tile drain water before it is discharged into surface waters such as streams.
  • Reservoirs: With this "capture and use" system, subsurface drainage water is diverted into on-farm ponds or reservoirs, where it is stored until it is needed to irrigate crops. 

"Each of the practices has been evaluated in isolation at scattered fields across the region but this will be coordinated effort to bring research results together and made into tools to improve decision-making," Hay said.

Drained lands comprise about 25 percent of U.S. cropland, some of it among the most productive in the world. Depending on the weather in any year, they can get too much water from rain and snow and not enough water, such as during drought. Many scientists believe that such extreme conditions are expected to intensify.   

The project will integrate research, extension and education to bring new understanding, tools and strategies to increase resiliency of drained agricultural land.

Extension and education programs will extend the strategies and tools to agricultural producers, the drainage industry, watershed managers, agencies and policymakers. "They also will help educate the next generation of engineers and scientists designing drainage systems that include storage in the landscape," Hay said.

More about Agriculture and Food Research Initiative

Hay's project is one of six Coordinated Agriculture Projects (CAP). These CAP grants are funded over a five-year period and are contingent on future congressional appropriations and achievement of project objectives and milestones.

The AFRI Water for Agriculture challenge area was first introduced in fiscal year 2014. The grants represent the first year of funding for the program.

  1. How drought, flooding, temperature, land use, and industrial and consumer demands affect the quantity, quality, and availability of water for agricultural use;
  2. How the quality of water for agricultural use may be sustainably improved;
  3. How production practices can be adapted to be more water-use efficient, conserving, and less polluting;
  4. What science is necessary for appropriate institutional, policy, regulatory, and governance decisions that will ensure regional agricultural water security to meet diverse and conflicting needs; and
  5. How new knowledge is to be delivered to agricultural and non-agricultural water users.

Funded projects will link social, economic and behavioral sciences with traditional biophysical sciences and engineering to address regional scale issues with shared hydrological processes, and meteorological and basin characteristics.