Design and testing of a paired drainage channel research facility

Jeffrey S. Strock, Gary R Sands, Denise J. Krebs, Chad Surprenant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In watersheds where artificial drainage is practiced, surface and subsurface runoff from agricultural lands is often carried by a network of open ditches that function as headwater streams. Open-channel ecosystems receive direct surface and subsurface inflow from agricultural land and act as potential conduits of considerable loads of nutrients, sediment, pathogens, and pesticides to small streams and larger rivers. Our objective was to design, build, and evaluate a drainage channel research facility for examining water quality impacts of water management in open-channel. An open-channel research facility incorporating a paired design was constructed during 2002 near Lamberton, Minnesota. A 200-m reach of existing drainage channel was converted into a system of four parallel channels. The facility was equipped with water level control devices and instrumentation for flow monitoring and water sample collection on upstream and downstream ends of the system. Flow hydrographs were created by simulating flow generated by pumping water from an adjacent pond. Channel morphology was described by measuring longitudinal channel bottom elevation and cross-sectional channel profiles. Hydrographs from simulated flow events during year one indicated that the paired open channels responded similarly to changes in inflow. Variability in hydrologic response between the open-channels was attributed to differences in open-ditch channel bottom elevation and vegetation density. Research facility system performance exceeded expectations. Potential future benefits of this research include improved biological diversity and integrity of open-channel ecosystems, reduced flood peaks and increased flow during critical low-flow periods, improved and more efficient nitrogen retention within the open-channel ecosystem, and decreased maintenance cost associated with reduced frequency of channel maintenance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-69
Number of pages7
JournalApplied Engineering in Agriculture
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005


  • Open channel
  • Paired design
  • Subsurface drainage
  • Surface drainage


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