Intensified Tile Drainage Evaluation

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2010 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund
Science Museum of Minnesota
Recipient Type
Non-Profit Business/Entity
Start Date
July 2009
End Date
June 2012
Activity Type
Counties Affected
Big Stone
Blue Earth
Big Stone
Blue Earth
Project Overview

Overall Project Outcome and Results
Agricultural rivers throughout Minnesota are impaired by excess sediment, a significant portion of which comes from non-field, near-channel sources, suggesting that rivers have become more erosive over time. In the upper Mississippi basin, crop conversions have lead to an intensification of artificial drainage, which is now a critical component of modern agriculture. Coincident with the expansion of drainage networks were increases in annual rainfall. To disentangle the effects of climate and land-use we compared changes in flow, runoff ratio, precipitation, crop conversions, and extent of drained depressional areas in 21 watersheds over the past 70 years. Major finding from this study are:

  • Flow and runoff ratio have increased by than more 50% in about half of the watersheds.
  • Increases in rainfall generally account for less than half of the increases in flow.
  • The largest increases in flow are correlated to the largest conversions to soybeans and extent of artificial drainage.
  • Using a water budget, calibrated to the first 35 years of record, we calculate that artificial drainage accounts for the majority of the statistically significant increases in flow.
  • Artificial drainage of depressional areas reduces water residence time on the landscape, consequently; a significant portion of annual rainfall that was once returned to the atmosphere via evapo-transpiration, is now routed to the rivers.
  • Loss of depressional areas and wetlands are strongly correlated to increases in excess flow in the 21 watersheds, thus supporting the proposed linkage between facilitated drainage of depressional areas and increases in river flow.
  • Rivers with increased river flow have experienced channel widening of 10-40%.
  • Climate, crop conversion and artificial drainage have combined to create more erosive rivers, with drainage as the largest driver of this change.

Project Results Use and Dissemination
Results of this study have been submitted for publication to the journal Hydrological Processes and have been accepted pending final review. Summaries and findings and implications of this study have been presented at more than 30 technical meetings in Minnesota and nationally. Many of these presentations have been in conjunction with local watershed groups, and have an audience of County Commissioners, farmers, SWCD staff, and agricultural consultants. These meetings have been highly successful at delivering the findings of this study to people who are directly involved in watershed management but are less likely to attend scientific meetings or read scientific journals.

Project Details
Legal Citation / Subdivision
M.L. 2009, Chp. 143, Sec. 2, Subd. 05d
Appropriation Language

$300,000 is from the trust fund to the Science Museum of Minnesota for the St. Croix watershed research station to conduct a comparative assessment of hydrologic changes in watersheds with and without intensive tile drainage to determine the effects of climate and tile drainage on river erosion. This appropriation is available until June 30, 2012, at which time the project must be completed and final products delivered, unless an earlier date is specified in the work program.

2010 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
Science Museum of Minnesota
Street Address
16910 152nd St N
Marine on St. Croix
Zip Code
651-433-5953 x1
Administered By
Administered by

120 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102

(800) 221-9444