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Choice of a drainage system

The choice between surface and subsurface drainage systems is dependent on

topographic, soil- and water-related factors:

Topographic Factors
O Availability of natural outlet: Subsurface _________ Surface __________
O Slope :

Subsurface _________ Surface __________

Soil-related Factors
O Hydraulic conductivity :

Subsurface _________ Surface __________

O Soil profile:

The thickness of the soil profile and of the individual horizons

influences the choice of a drainage systems. Other considerations include the
presence of layers with restrictive drainage (argillic horizon, clay pan,
petrocalcic horizon, etc.) or layers with extremely high conductivity

Water-related Factors
O Source of excess water :

Excess water from irrigation may be removed with

either surface or subsurface drainage systems. Excess water from irrigation
applications require the use of subsurface drainage systems. If the excess water
in the root zone results from upward seepage from groundwater, subsurface
drainage systems are indicated.

Components of subsurface drainage systems

O Laterals: Collects water from surrounding soil. The region of influence of a

lateral is dependent on the soil and on the spacing of the laterals.

O Main Drains: Primarily used to transport collected water to outlets. In some

systems, mains are perforated and, therefore, also act as collection units.

O Outlet: Drains can outlet into open channels or other drains. If the mains are

below the level of the outlet, the water has to be pumped up to the outlet level.

Subsurface Drainage Patterns

O Natural or Random: Primarily for drainage of small or isolated wet areas





O Herringbone: Drainage of concave or natural draw topography. Laterals are

typically long and empty into a main that follows the low line of the draw or
O Gridiron or Parallel: Used to draw large flat or uniformly sloping areas. The

laterals enter the main from only one side. The laterals are parallel and need not
be perpendicular to the main. These systems have fewer junctions than
herringbone systems and are generally more economical.




O Cutoff or Inceptor: Collects groundwater before it seeps onto the soil surface,

thereby removing seepage areas from slopes.

Water table


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Clay pan or tight sub

Drain Materials
O Clay or concrete tile: Cylindrical tiles, 1 foot in length, with diameters ranging

from 3 to 24 inches. Usually the wall thickness is about 1/12th of the internal
diameter. Water enters tile lines through the spaces between adjacent tiles. The
space ranges from 0.125 to 0.25 inches.
O Corrugated Plastic Tubing (CPT): Most of the drains being installed in

agricultural fields are made of CPT. These drains are either made of high density
polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride. Water enters the drain through slots or
perforations. Drains are sometimes covered with a fabric sock to prevent the
inflow of small particles. CPT drains weigh about 1/25th of equivalent clay or
concrete drains, are durable, resistant to soil chemicals, easy to join and handle,
and can be extruded in long lengths. However, they are susceptible to damage by
rodent, remain curved, float, and have greater hydraulic roughness than clay or
concrete tiles.
O Mole drains: These are cylindrical channels plowed into the soil. This method is

only suitable for some soils (clayey soils). Typically these drains have an
expected life of 1- 5 years.

Depth and Spacing

Depth and spacing are interrelated. Wider spacing can be used if drains are placed
deeper. The objective is to provide an adequate root zone depth midway between
the tile lines.
Depth is measured from the soil surface to the bottom of the drainage pipe. Depths
generally range from 2.5 ft (80 cm) to 8 ft (250 cm). At least 2 ft (60 cm) of cover is
needed above the drains to protect them from agricultural practices. The depths of
mains are affected by outlet conditions and topography, while the depth of laterals
are dependent on soil permeability, depth of main, lateral spacing, depth to
impermeable layer, limitations of trenching equipment, amount and frequency of
rainfall, seepage, and topography.
Drain spacing equations are based on approximate mathematical solutions to the
two dimensional Laplace equation. Exact solutions of the equation tend to be very
complicated and not worth the extra effort.
Typical procedure for designing a drainage system consist of
1. Selecting a drainage rate or water table height
2. Estimating or measuring hydraulic conductivity and other soil properties
3. Selecting a suitable depth based on existing constrains, and
4. Computing spacing.

Equations for depth and spacing are based either on steady-state or transient flow
conditions. Steady-state conditions are preferred since they are easier to analyze
and, additionally, transient flow events may be represented by a consecutive series
of steady-state flow events. Most of the depth and spacing equations are based on
some approximation of the theory of groundwater flow. As such, they are empirical
in nature and should only be applied if the underlying assumptions are
approximately satisfied.