Nature Conservancy Offering Educational Assistance for Two-Stage Ditch

Innovative Ditch Can Help Improve Water Quality in Wabash River Watershed

WINAMAC, IN | February 24, 2011

The Nature Conservancy has received funding from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to promote the usage of the innovative Two-Stage Ditch design in the Wabash River watershed. The Conservancy hopes to establish the Two-Stage Ditch as a readily accepted and widely implemented practice in the watershed.  

Michigan example of Two Stage Ditch

Prior to European settlement, Indiana was covered primarily by deciduous forests, wetlands and grasslands.  Today the bulk of the state is dominated by row-crop agricultural lands.  To make this land more productive for farming, streams have been ditched, fields tiled and wetlands drained such that water is quickly removed from the land.   This has drastically altered the hydrology of our streams and rivers, creating “flashy” ecological systems. 

Water, when confined to a channel such as a stream or ditch, has the potential to cause great destruction. If there is too much water moving through an undersized area of land, then there is nowhere for it to go but to rush out of its barriers. Bank erosion, scouring, and flooding are good indicators that there is problem with how the water is drained from the soil.

There is no simple solution to address altered hydrology.  However, one promising innovation is the Two-Stage Ditch.  This design mimics a more natural stream channel when compared to the conventional channels found in most managed ditches.  The design of the Two-Stage Ditch has a low flow channel and a corresponding bench that allows for bank overflows to occur within the confines of the ditch.  The benches within a Two-Stage Ditch function more like stream-side floodplains, slowing the flow of water and reducing bank scouring. 

“The Nature Conservancy believes that wide-scale implementation of the 2-Stage Ditch can be part of a viable long-term solution to benefit local and state-wide water quality,” said Kent Wamsley, project director for the Conservancy’s Wabash Rivers Initiative.  “And this IDEM grant will help us educate and promote the 2-Stage Ditch.”

This education and outreach effort will be undertaken state-wide.  The Conservancy will host workshops, presentations, and field days targeting county surveyors, watershed managers and private landowners to increase general understanding of Two-Stage practices. These gatherings will provide information including design, construction, construction and maintenance costs, and ecological performance of Two-Stage Ditches. The Conservancy hopes that these outreach efforts will increase interest in the practice, translating to implementation in the future.

The Conservancy will soon post instructional powerpoint presentations on its website——that provide an overview of a Two-Stage Ditch technology.

The long-term outcome would be that these ditches are part of an integrated solution that positively impacts water quality and aquatic habitat across the state..

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

Contact information

Kent Wamsley
(574) 946-7491

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