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Tile Drainage Pumps for Farm Fields (07/30/15)

During the warm and drier part of the summer it is easy to forget the challenges of planting the 2015 crop. Many fields had issues with excess water during this and pervious growing seasons.

Tile Drainage Pumps for Farm Fields

During the warm and drier part of the summer it is easy to forget the challenges of planting the 2015 crop. Many fields had issues with excess water during this and previous growing seasons. Many producers have done an excellent job in draining off the surface water from fields. A more advanced solution would be to manage the soil water and water table level. Installing perforated pipe below the surface of a field to remove excess water is referred to as subsurface drainage, commonly called tile drainage. A typical tile drainage system has a number of small laterals, either 3, 4 or 5 inches in diameter that drain water to larger diameter sub-mains and mains.

All the collected water from the tile laterals and mains flow to an outlet point on the edge of the field to discharge to an open ditch or other surface water body. The outlet is at the lowest elevation of the tile system and may end up lower than the elevation of the bottom of the discharge channel. This situation requires a pump to lift the water to the discharge channel where it will flow to a river or stream. Sometimes it is necessary to use a pump station to lift the water over a hill or rise that is between the field and the discharge channel.

A pump station increases the investment in a tile drainage system significantly, but often it is the only option for moving the tile drainage water to the outlet. Common conditions requiring a pump station are:

  1. The outlet ditch is shallow. Often in flat topography like the Red River and Souris River valleys the only available outlet is a road ditch. The bottom of many road ditches are about 2 to 3 feet below field elevation but the tile main at the outlet can be 6 to 7 feet below field elevation, thus the water from the main must be lifted into the outlet ditch.
  2. The downstream water elevation is controlled by a culvert or road. It may be possible to change the outlet elevation by lowering the culvert or digging through the road so that a pump station is not needed, however, local governance and adjacent landowners may object.
  3. The outlet ditch fills with water after a large rain and stays that way for more than 3 days. If the outlet ditch is full, it will not let the tile drainage system drain at the design rate, and the lower part of the field may stay saturated for a long time.
  4. Control the amount of water that leaves the field. During the growing season, lift pumps can be turned off to hold subsurface water in the field. Likewise, they should be turned off during snowmelt flooding situations.
  5. Grade control of laterals in the field. Often the outlet elevation is in that gray area of design where it is almost deep enough to use as a gravity outlet. However, it may require shallower drains with very shallow grades on the laterals in the field, thus affecting the drainage intensity. A lift station will allow for deeper drains and increase the grade of the laterals, which may change the lateral spacing enough to pay for the lift station.

More information about pumps and installation can be found in the new NDSU printed publication AE1747 “Tile Drainage Pump Stations for Farm Fields.”

plsc.kandel.1.pump units


Tom Scherer

Extension Agricultural Engineer


 Hans Kandel

Extension Agronomist Broadleaf Crops


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