Minnesota has one of the most extensive artificial drainage systems on the face of the earth. A network of public and private surface drainage ditches and subsurface drainage tiles covers about two-thirds of the state.The reality is that this drainage system is as much a part of our infrastructure as is our road system.

Over the past year, MCEA has participated in a technical group that developed a set of recommendations for water managers to use as they consider tile drainage in the Red River Basin.

Unlike much of Minnesota’s agriculture land, most of the Red River basin has not been drained with subsurface drainage tile yet, but tile drainage is increasing due to high land values and crop prices. Water managers in the Red River basin have a unique opportunity to implement reasonable strategies to minimize the potential for new tile drainage to increase flood damages. The paper (below) outlines a series of water management options for water managers to use to reduce the risks of tile drainage to increase flood damages. We are hopeful that future work by the technical group will investigate the water quality implications of tile drainage in the basin and make recommendations to reduce water quality impacts.

Read the Basin Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee's Water Management Options for Subsurface Drainage Briefing paper here.

Learn more:

Board of Water and Soil Resources - Drainage Management Team

Kittson County Drainage Factsheet


Speaking up for Citizen's Rights

Bill HF 1021 was proposed during the 2012-2013 legislative session. It would have exempted minor ditch repairs from certain environmental civil actions. A bill like this could conceivably have huge repercussions on the environment and allowable citizen response.

MCEA executive director, Scott Strand, testified against this bill when it was heard in the House Environmental Policy Committee. MCEA gave three strong reasons to oppose:

1. The bill was an attempt to roll back the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), which was adopted in 1971 and has proven to be a critical tool to allow citizens access to the courts to stop pollution, impairment, or destruction of Minnesota’s natural resources.

2. The bill would have weakened wetland protection. 90% of the wetlands in the Red River Valley have already been lost because of drainage, which has resulted in poorer flood control, more water pollution, and enormous losses in wildlife habitat. This bill would have stifled the ability of the Wetlands Conservation Act (WCA) to stop drainage projects that damage wetlands. The bill’s proponents claimed that this would just exempt small projects, but small projects (a culvert for example) can do great damage. Lots of small projects together can have dramatic cumulative impacts.

3. The bill was an end run around the stakeholder processes already in place to address these kinds of issues. For example, a stakeholder group known as the Drainage Work Group meets routinely to discuss best management practices when it comes to drainage issues and how they affect agricultural interests as well as environmental interests. MCEA participates in this forum with other groups like the DNR, the MPCA, BWSR, the Department of Agriculture, the University of Minnesota, and others.
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