Better Ag Drainage Wins Award

OSU researcher Andy Ward honored for design of two-stage ditch.

Published on: May 6, 2013

Traditional drainage ditches are critical for agriculture in Ohio. Without them the land in the northwestern part of the state once called "The Great Black Swamp" would no longer be productive.

However, traditional ditches which are V-shaped with a narrow flat bottom have drawbacks. They can be too small for large storm water runoff and are very expensive to keep up. Maintaining such ditches often exposes the banks to erosion and destroys the plant life and animals along the bank in the process.

Andy Ward, an agricultural engineer at OSU's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences came up with a solution.  His two-stage design has a small main channel at the bottom of the ditch -- stage one -- and raised, grass-covered "benches" along both sides of the channel -- stage two. The benches catch any overflow from the channel, are high and wide enough to keep heavy rain runoff from topping the banks and flooding surrounding farmland, and serve in the same way as a natural river's floodplain.

Better Ag Drainage Wins Award
Better Ag Drainage Wins Award

The concept recently won him the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center's 2013 Innovator of the Year Award. The award honors innovation and entrepreneurship by OARDC scientists.

"The concept is changing long-held perceptions of what constitutes a 'good' drainage ditch," one of Ward's nominators wrote.

The idea "was developed by observing the natural processes of stable streams and rivers that could relieve erosion, scouring and flooding," according to an OARDC statement.

Ward acknowledges the help of his team, Dan Mecklenburg, Jon Witter, Jessica D'Ambrosio and others in creating the design. It's been used to build 20 drainage ditches around the Midwest. Thirty more have been built by Ward's former students and graduates of his design workshops and so far, none of the 50 has needed any maintenance.

The design is currently eligible for federal cost-share through USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Source: OSU Extension