Purdue University Graduate School
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Evaluating drainage water recycling in tile-drained systems

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posted on 2019-12-03, 17:42 authored by Benjamin D ReinhartBenjamin D Reinhart

Drainage water recycling (DWR) is the practice of capturing, storing, and reusing subsurface drained agricultural water to support supplemental irrigation and has recently been proposed as a practice for improving the crop production and water quality performance in the tile-drained landscape of the U.S. Midwest. This study describes the development of a modeling framework to quantify the potential irrigation and water quality benefits of DWR systems in tile-drained landscapes and the application of the model using ten years of measured weather, tile drain flow and nutrient concentrations, water table, and soil data from two sites in the U.S. Midwest. From this modeling framework, the development and testing of an open-source online tool is also presented.

A spreadsheet model was developed to track water flows between a reservoir and drained and irrigated field area at each site. The amount of tile drain flow and associated nutrient loads that could be captured from the field and stored in the reservoir was estimated to calculate the potential water quality benefits of the system. Irrigation benefits were quantified based on the amount of applied irrigation annually. A reservoir size representing 6% to 8% of the field area with an average depth of 3.05 m was sufficient in meeting the annual irrigation requirements during the 10-year period at each site. At this reservoir size, average annual nitrate-N loads were reduced by 20% to 40% and soluble reactive phosphorus loads by 17% to 41%. Variability in precipitation within and across years, and differences in soil water characteristics, resulted in a wide range of potential benefits at the two sites.

An online tool was developed from the model, and a variance-based global sensitivity analysis was conducted to determine influential and low-sensitivity input parameters. The input parameter, depth of root zone, was the most influential input parameter suggesting that the estimation of total available water for the field water balance is a critical component of the model. Input settings describing the irrigation management and crop coefficients for the initial establishment and mid-season crop growth periods were also influential in impacting the field water balance. Reservoir seepage rate was influential in regard to the reservoir water balance, particularly at larger reservoir sizes. Sensitivity analysis results were used to develop a user-interface for the tool, Evaluating Drainage Water Recycling Decisions (EDWRD).

This study shows that DWR is capable of providing both irrigation and water quality benefits in the tile-drained landscape of the U.S. Midwest. The developed modeling framework supports future research on the development of strategies to implement and manage DWR systems, and the online tool serves as a resource for users to increase their awareness and understanding of the potential benefits of this novel practice.


Managing Water for Increased Resiliency of Drained Agricultural Landscapes, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Award Number: 2015–68007–23193


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Jane Frankenberger

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Laura Bowling

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Christopher Hay