The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has provided funding to the Nature Conservancy in Indiana to Implement two-stage ditches and demonstrate both how they work, and how they do a better job of reducing sediment load and protecting water quality of Indiana waters compared dot conventional, V-bottom farm drainage ditches.
Some two-stage ditches have already been built using the cost-share funds. During the next two years, the Nature Conservancy plans to use additional IDEM funds to establish eight two-stage ditches, each approximately one-half mile long, in Indiana to spur interest in and adoption of the practice throughout the state.
Two stage-stiches basically consist of a normal ditch, in good condition, with floodplain levees on either side. During big rain events, the floodplains 'store' water that would otherwise run over the creek banks into surrounding fields, causing erosion, and both sediment and nutrient loss. The sediment and nutrients eventually end up in larger bodies of water fed by the local ditches.
"The Nature Conservancy started working with agricultural ditches when we realized we were not moving the needle of success far enough," says Larry Clemons of the Conservancy. The needle comment refers to keeping sediment out of streams and lakes. Clemons has a long history as a pioneer in conservation work. He was a key player in the project that cleaned up and protected creeks in northeast Indiana in the Steuben County area in the 1990s.
"The two-stage ditch is now one of the Conservancy's strategies to improve habitat for fish and mussel species in our waterways," he says. One of the goals in the Fish Creek project in northeast Indiana he spearheaded earlier was to work with farmers to install conservation practices in vulnerable areas to protect mussels and endangered species in Indiana waters.
The Conservancy does not intend to limit these two-stage ditches to northern Indian, where some of the first ones were installed. Instead, Kent Wamsley, also with the Conservancy, says the goal is to educate farmers and landowners and promote the Two-Stage Ditch system all across Indiana and into other neighboring Midwestern states.One factor overlooked because the concept is so new, Wamsley says, is that the two-stage ditch should result in far less maintenance costs for farmers and landowners in the long term. He sees it as a more permanent solution rather than a temporary fix. To learn more, visit: www.nature.org/Indianadiana.