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On the ground: Highlights from the 2024 LICO Drainage Conference

January 25, 2024  By Drainage Contractor

Collaboration and consensus were two major themes that emerged on Jan. 24 at the Land Improvement Contractors of Ontario (LICO) annual Drainage Conference in London, Ont.

More than 400 attendees representing contractors, engineers, drainage superintendents, designers, researchers and more gathered at the Lamplighter Best Western Inn and Conference Centre. A trade show and networking opportunities were part of the conference, but the ideas exchanged – both onstage and over food and drinks – were the stars of the show.

Numerous sessions, which consisted of individual speakers and panels, focused on drainage and water management topics ranging from technical and practical – like an Ontario Ministry of Transportation presentation on the rules of the road, or a case study presentation on spill response – to more high-level, conceptual discussions – like the opening panel on finding solutions in ag water management.

“Anytime you do any project, you have to balance the perspective of the environment, where funding dollars are coming from, you have to have a willing landowner and a willing perspective,” said Angela Coleman, general manager of Conservation Ontario, who sat on the first panel.


Chris Hay of the Iowa Soybean Association, who sat on the panel with Coleman, echoed the need for consensus in agriculture as we enter trying times that place greater demands on drainage systems.

“How can we update and upgrade that infrastructure in a regulatory policy environment and at the same time address the nutrient reduction goals?” Hay asked. He adds that there has been more general consensus on climate change among farmers, “if we can avoid the controversies around what causes it.”

OMAFRA engineer Tim Brook also provided an insight into drainage statistics, including participation in OMAFRA’s drainage course, the tile loan program, number and cost of projects, and more. According to Brook, the number of registered drainage businesses, equipment and operators in Ontario remain stable, indicating a mature but stable industry.

Panel formats allowed for more nuanced discussions of higher-concept ideas, like the use of high-tech tools to inform drain design. An afternoon panel featuring Dan Saurette (OMAFRA), Keith Frey (A&E), Andy Chevalier (CEW Data Works) and Nate Cook (Cook’s AGPS) discussed the evolution of detection and mapping tools such as LiDAR (light detection and ranging) including benefits, limitations and whether or not publicly available systems (like Ontario’s new LiDAR-derived digital terrain modelling system) would put those in the private mapping businesses out of a job.

Cook doesn’t think so. “New people getting into it think there’s an ‘easy’ button that does the whole design for you,” he said.

Conference activities continue today, Jan. 25, with additional activities for the Drainage Superintendents Association of Ontario component, and a conservation drainage workshop hosted by Hay.

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