Two-Stage Ditches: a Win-Win for Clean Water, Wildlife, and People

Helps reduce ponding, bank failure and soil loss

Howard County, Indiana | January 16, 2013

Kent Wamsley was walking in an agricultural drainage ditch in Kokomo, seeing signs of bank failure and soil loss that needed to be addressed. Kent suggested the farmer install a Two-Stage Ditch, which can help with both problems. It also helps the farmer by increasing capacity in the ditch at high water events, which will then help reduce ponding in the field.

Wamsley knows a lot about the Two-Stage Ditch. He works for The Nature Conservancy, and the Two-Stage Ditch has shown great promise for improving water quality. But just as importantly, the Two-Stage Ditch has shown to reduce ponding in fields and reduce slumping of the ditch banks.
An additional benefit is that upland game birds and other wildlife species are using the Two-Stage Ditch as habitat and travel corridors.

Wamsley and The Nature Conservancy have been working with farmers for over 20 years to encourage environmentally-friendly farming practices, which improve water quality and also provide benefits to the farmer.

“The Conservancy in Indiana has worked with several partners and programs over the years to promote the Two-Stage Ditch to farmers and landowners,” said Wamsley. His progress with Two-Stage Ditches is furthered by working with county surveyors and drainage boards. Currently, Wamsley is coordinating Two-Stage Ditch constructions in other parts of the state, most recently in Howard and Tippecanoe Counties. He is also looking for locations and interest in counties where Two-Stage Ditches can be installed and has funding through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Section 319 program to install more Two-Stage Ditches in Indiana. In addition, Kent is working with farmers to make them aware of other funding sources to help defray the costs of installing Two-Stage Ditches.

Wamsley believes the Two-Stage has great benefits for people and nature, and is a win-win for farmers, clean water, and wildlife. The ditch is a modification of the standard agricultural ditch, incorporating benches that water in the main channel can spill onto during a larger rain event. The Two-Stage Ditch mimics the design of natural stream channels, slowing the peak storm flow of water and reducing bank scouring by adding water storage capacity to the ditch; yet keeping the ditch in its current flowpath.

Going a step further
Recently representatives from Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever in Indiana have also become interested in the Two-Stage Ditch. The habitat potential—especially if planted to native grasses—of the Two-Stage’s side slopes and bench areas is beneficial not only to upland game birds, but to land mammals and amphibians also.

Brian Nentrup, Regional Representative for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, says, “With the rampant habitat loss we've seen across the Midwest recently, any opportunity to add grassland habitat to the landscape is critical to upland birds and other wildlife."

With habitat loss happening all across the Midwest, the Two-Stage Ditch could become the travel corridors for species that fence rows and woodlots once were.

Balancing the need for production, wildlife, and clean water is not easy, and the Two-Stage Ditch is not the one stop answer, but it is a tool that can positively affect all of these needs.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Kent Wamsley
(574) 946-7491

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