Drainage Contractor

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Forty-year flashback: Prevention is better than cleanout

September 9, 2013  By Drainage Contractor

Sept. 9, 2013 – As Denis Rogerson, a drainage commissioner in Norfolk County, Ont., noted in the 1975 issue of Drainage Contractor, preventative maintenance is an important part of open-ditch drainage. Read more in this week’s Forty-year flashback article.

“We begin thinking about maintenance even before a drain is built,” declares Denis Rogerson, drainage commissioner for the Township of Windham in Ontario’s Norfolk County. “If you establish a continuing maintenance program, drainage can function at 95 percent efficiency at all times . . . and you avoid all those conflicts with the public.”

Traditionally, drainage problems mount to the point where farmers petition their local government, an engineer is appointed, construction contracts are let and new drainage works are constructed. “If a drain is neglected to the point where major construction is needed then there is a jolt to the environment,” says Rogerson. “We now have to consider the naturalist, the ecologist and the environmentalist. We must have good answers to such questions as, ‘Is it really necessary and desirable to excavate that drain?'”

Rogerson has been urging a total approach to drainage. This involves farmers, local government and the provincial ministries of agriculture, environment and natural resources.


“Ideally, there should be an input from the resource manager at the conservation authority, an agricultural engineer and someone who can provide a detached overview,” says Rogers. “Such a report would help the municipal council involved, to decide if it wanted to appoint an engineer. Once approved, the engineer would then have to think about that report when making his recommendations. Too often, engineers have seen their function as getting water from A to B. But if we are to have successful preventative maintenance then we have to think about seeding side slopes to reduce erosion and runoff which pollutes the lakes with nutrients.”

The reaction of the farm community to drainage ditch maintenance is favorable. However, there are a few hurdles to overcome before prevention becomes more widely accepted. Easements may have to be acquired to give access to drains running through bush or crops. Some of the problems were faced in the final report of the Ontario Select Committee on Land Drainage. On a point of clarification, the committee preferred the title of drainage superintendent in preference to commissioner, which, in some jurisdictions, refers to people who operate and maintain pumping systems. The committee generally conceded the validity of Rogerson’s philosophy, but pointed out that, “The superintendent must be capable of interpreting plans, profiles and other related documents such as the engineer’s report and the specifications. He should have a working knowledge of the engineer’s level and should be able to set and check grades in the field. He should have some knowledge of financial matters so that he will be able to control costing. He should have, or be capable of assimilating, a general knowledge of basic drain design, erosion control and, in some cases, pumping operations.”

The committee observed that, “The Drainage Act makes no mention of any particular course of study to acquire them.” If the committee’s recommendations in this area are followed, there will be more, better-qualified drainage superintendents. Further, there will be recognition that subsidies for prevention are warranted and there will be specific authority to make certain drainage improvements without an engineering report. As Rogerson points out, “An experienced contractor can restore a ditch to the original specifications, providing the drain has not been neglected.”

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