Editorial: A little less talk and a lot more action
"But the water tables have turned. People are talking about drainage again, and not necessarily in a positive way."
There’s a conversation happening within – and about – the drainage community right now, and it’s not necessarily a positive one.
Tile drainage has been commonplace in agriculture for the better part of the last century. When farmers experienced flooded fields, the local drainage contractor would be called, and tile would be installed. When HDPE pipe was introduced in the 1960s, and for many years after that, it was touted as a much-needed solution. HDPE pipe was a vast improvement over clay tile, and at one time, a well-drained field was a win for everyone involved. The industry was booming – people were talking about drainage.
But the water tables have turned. People are talking about drainage again, and not necessarily in a positive way. What was once considered to be a revolutionary way to increase cropland productivity is now, in some cases, seen as a destructive risk to natural resources. Those who once worked together toward a common goal are now butting heads.
In my daily perusal of the news, I came across a column in the Minnesota Star Tribune entitled “Unregulated farm tiling puts state’s waters at risk” by Dennis Anderson. Anderson, an outdoors columnist for the newspaper, writes about pattern tiling and how the position of subsurface tile will move water as quickly as possible from a farmland to the nearest ditch, stream, or lake. The problem with this, Anderson writes, is that levels of the receiving waterway can rise significantly, and, in many cases, wipe out aquatic vegetation that wildlife species need to survive. He doesn’t directly blame tile drainage for this, but calls on tiling to be more regulated.
The comments section of the article has varying opinions, and I was happy to see several come to the defense of the drainage industry. It’s a divided dialogue, but at the very least, conversation is happening. For too long, the conversation has been one-sided, and productive exchange is what the industry needs right now. And so, I went on a mission to find the yea-sayers – those who recognize the challenges but promote the positive side of drainage; those who acknowledge the issues and are open to discussing solutions.
I’m pleased to have two guest columnists in this issue of Drainage Contractor. On page 8, Warren Formo, the executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center, responds to some of the comments made in the Star Tribune column and the comments posted online. As Formo writes, we’ve already seen how modern technology and advances in water quality research have led to changes to improve drainage design and crop productivity while addressing environmental concerns.
And on page 30, Jacqui Empson Laporte, an environmental specialist and a member of the drainage team for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, discusses the barriers to innovation in the drainage industry. After attending various meetings and workshops over the past year, Empson Laporte saw first-hand the opposing views of drainage, and shares some of her thoughts on how we can move forward as a team.
As contractors, your role in this is two-fold. Firstly, educate yourself. Do some research about water quality regulations in your area and find out what people are talking about and why. Secondly, find a way to engage. Whether it’s by commenting on a newspaper article or attending a local meeting, drainage contractors can join the conversation.
I’m always a proponent of a healthy debate, but only when both sides are able to speak their piece. Get involved and spread the good word.