Adjustable drainage can retain water on plots

An innovative drainage system makes it possible to retain water in periods with excess precipitation for dry periods. This means farmers will be able to coordinate the drainage level of the land with the variable circumstances making them water managers of their own farms: the water is managed on-site. Together with his colleagues, Lodewijk Stuyt conducted five-years of research into this composed adjustable drainage.

If farmers themselves are able to play the role of water managers on their own farms, this benefits agricultural production in dry periods and helps prevent area desiccation. Reducing peak drainage in the event of heavy rainfall is also possible with smart management. A third advantage of adjustable drainage is that it can also reduce nutrients being washed into the surface water. This innovation is already being applied in the south-east Netherlands.

In October 2012, a symposium took place in Atlas about this innovative form of drainage where it was concluded that drainage must always be customised; one size does not fit all. 'Adjustable drainage allows areas prone to drought that are currently not being drained, to still be drained in the future,' explains Lodewijk Stuyt. 'Adjustable drainage can be included as a possible measure in careful consultation with farmers and land managers.' During the symposium, Siem-Jan Schenk (LTO-Noord president) noted that ideas concerning water in agriculture have changed. 'Good water is an expensive means of production since you have to handle it sparingly and adjustable drainage gives farmers a control option.' Arjan van der Zee (Forest Management Agency) broadly describes that adjustable drainage can, in fact, be set so that more water is drained away, meaning it must be 'used as intended' by farmers. The next step is applying the knowledge and understanding that has been acquired in practice, says Jan Busstra (Ministry of Infrastructure & Environment).

Fuelled by the discussion on climate change in recent years, the realisation is arising that water is essential for all of society's well-being and welfare. In agriculture and among water managers this has also led to a change in thinking about water as a valuable auxiliary source. According to Stefan Kuks (Association of Water Boards), adjustable drainage can contribute to efficient water management that is focused on the improved utilisation of excess precipitation. In the past, installing conventional drainage on a large scale has led to intensive draining and thus less water damage in agriculture, although it also resulted in area desiccation.

The research is being conducted by Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra), commissioned by the Ministry of and the Environment, STOWA, Peel en Maasvallei Water Board, Brabantse Delta Water Board, Provincie Zeeland, the European Union, Interactief Waterbeheer and Rabobank.

Click here for the STOWA report ‘Meer water met regelbare drainage?’ (available in Dutch only)