Fate of water and nitrate using drainage water management on tile systems in east-central Illinois

Tito Lavaire, Lowell E. Gentry, Mark B. David, Richard A. Cooke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drainage water management (DWM) is a potential edge-of-field technique that is being studied as a method to improve soil water management in agricultural fields, which may reduce nitrate losses to surface waters during the non-growing season. Inline water level control structures were installed on two adjacent tile systems draining a 34 ha field located in the Upper Salt Fork of the Vermillion River Watershed in central Illinois to evaluate DWM from 2011 through 2013. The overall objective of this study was to determine the effectiveness of DWM in reducing nitrate losses from fields in a corn and soybean production system in east-central Illinois, as well as to investigate the fate of the retained water. A paired watershed approach was used to determine the impact of DWM on tile flow and nitrate load compared to a control treatment or free drainage (FD) tile system. The entire 34 ha field was under a corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean (Glycine max L.) rotation with continuous no-till. During 2011 and 2012, DWM was able to greatly reduce tile flow compared to the FD tile system. However, based on runoff and nitrate yields from the entire field, there was no measureable reduction in nitrate loss and shallow ground-water wells showed little area of influence in the field (∼2 ha). Water from the DWM tile system flowed laterally to the nearby FD tile system, increasing flow and nitrate loss from the FD system. In 2013, when both tiles were under DWM, water was retained and the water table level was increased in a larger area of the field (∼6 ha). However, at the end of the experiment when the control stoplogs were lowered the retained water was discharged through the tiles lines with little apparent reduction (10%) in overall water and nitrate loss for the year. Measurements of tile and well nitrate concentrations suggested that nitrate was not denitrified in the shallow groundwater of the field during the three-year study. Nitrate losses were directly proportional to tile flow each year of the study. Retrofitting DWM on an existing tile system was found to have a limited water quality benefit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-228
Number of pages11
JournalAgricultural Water Management
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Drainage water management
  • Tile drainage
  • Tile nitrate loads

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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