Conservation drainage and advanced technologies to be the focus of upcoming Drainage School

By Elizabeth Schwab and Vinayak Shedekar

            Conservation drainage and application of advanced technologies for drainage design and installation will be the focus of this year’s Overholt Drainage School, which will be held from March 14 to March 18 at The Ohio State University’s Lima Campus.  

Subsurface drainage was introduced in the Midwestern United States in the 1830s and has since become a necessity to sustain crop production in the region’s poorly drained soils. Is there any farmer in this region who does not understand the benefits of drainage? “Twenty Benefits of Drainage” was published in 1982 by OSU Drainage Extension Agricultural Engineer, Mel Palmer. The list goes beyond the improved trafficability and crop yield benefits (visit to view the archived article). Most of those benefits still hold true 40 years later!

            Despite its numerous benefits, some of the adverse impacts of drainage on the environment have become a major concern in recent decades. Two noteworthy water quality issues are caused by nitrogen and phosphorus, which can escape farm fields through drain tile: the formation of harmful (sometimes toxic) algal blooms in the Western Basin of Lake Erie and other lakes, and the huge hypoxic “dead zone” where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Note that agricultural drainage is not the only source of the nutrients reaching these water bodies, but it s one of the major contributors.  

Conservation drainage 

The good news is that it is possible to minimize the negative impacts of drainage on the environment. The Golden Rule of Drainage is: “Drain only what is necessary for good crop growth and trafficability, and not one drop more.” “Conservation drainage” goes further, incorporating approaches and practices to minimize the environmental impacts on the downstream environment and ecology. Controlled drainage (drainage water management), drainage water recycling, saturated buffers, denitrifying bioreactors, and phosphorus filters are all components of conservation drainage. More details on these practices can be found at

Advanced technology 

From the perspective of a farmer or landowner, the benefits of drainage outweigh the negative impacts. However, it is important and cost-effective to invest into a drainage system that will continue to provide benefits while minimizing environmental impacts. An improperly designed or installed system may result in problems that are difficult and expensive to fix.

The purpose of drainage has not changed over the past 200 years. But the science and techniques for designing and installing drainage system have evolved. Do you remember installing clay tiles before laser controls? In the last 15 years, drainage system installation has been revolutionized by the availability of computer software for drainage design, machine control, and high-precision differential (RTK) GPS technology for surveying and installation of drainage systems.

2022 Overholt Drainage School 

The 2022 Overholt Drainage School program will address planning, design, and installation of drainage; conservation drainage practices; and advanced technology applications. The program is open to anyone interested in subsurface drainage design and installation, including drainage contractors, professional engineers, district technicians, consultants, NRCS and agency professionals, and landowners. In addition to lectures and panel discussions, the program will feature hands-on training and demonstrations. 

Topics will include drainage law, economics, planning, topographic mapping, GPS surveying, drainage design and installation, drainage design software, machine control, and conservation practices to manage water quality. The five-day program is presented in two sessions. Session 1 (Monday – Wednesday) covers drainage design, installation, and conservation practices, while Session 2 (Thursday – Friday) focuses on advanced drainage technology applications (i.e., GPS, design software, and machine control). 

The training is provided by a team of experts from OSU, state and federal agencies such as Ohio Department of Agriculture and NRCS, and industry partners such as the Ohio Land Improvement Contractors of America (OLICA), pipe manufacturers, and equipment dealers.

Registrants can choose to attend the full five-day training that includes sessions 1 and 2 (March 14 – 18, $575) or Session 1 only (March 14 – 16, $425). Since Session 2 is heavily dependent on Session 1, option to register for Session 2 only is not available. A discount is available for multiple attendees from the same family, company, or agency ($575 for first registrant and $375 for each additional person).

Visit for print and online registration forms, detailed session information, and hotel information. Availability may be limited, so early registration is encouraged. All registration forms and payment must be received by March 10. Additional information and updates will be provided by email as the event date approaches.

Please contact Vinayak Shedekar ( with any questions.

Elizabeth Schwab is a Lecturer and co-coordinator of the Overholt Drainage Research and Education Program in the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and can be reached at Vinayak Shedekar is a Research Scientist and coordinator of the Overholt Drainage Research and Education Program in the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and can be reached at This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, International Program for Water Management in Agriculture, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. 

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One comment

  1. Whether we build school or any other building our drainage system must be better. Drainage law, economics, planning, topographic mapping, GPS surveying information is very good and for new builders.

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