The Nature Conservancy Endorses Two-Stage Ditch as “Win-Win” for Farmers and Water Quality

The Nature Conservancy has announced plans to further the use of the Two-Stage Ditch in 2012

WINAMAC, INDIANA | December 14, 2011

With continued funding from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), The Nature Conservancy has announced plans to further the use of the Two-Stage Ditch in 2012, with the goal being to establish it as a readily accepted and widely implemented practice throughout Indiana. Using the IDEM funding, the Conservancy plans eight additional ½-mile project sites in Indiana in the next two years.

Several questions come to mind, such as What’s so wrong with our current ditches? , Why would a conservation organization such as The Nature Conservancy care about agricultural ditches?, and What is a Two-Stage Ditch?

Conventional ditches are v-shaped with no place for water to flow during heavy rains, other than rushing forward and at some point spilling over the banks into the adjoining farm fields. This fast flowing water causes bank erosion, scouring and flooding, all indicators that there is a problem with how water is drained from the fields.

In high-water events, conventional ditches can also transport unhealthy amounts of soil particles and nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrogen) to connecting Indiana rivers and streams. This can degrade water quality, as well as habitat for many fish and animal species.

The Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. In Indiana, the Conservancy has worked for over fifty years to protect over 78,000 acres. The Conservancy works with local communities on issues of vital interest, including the quality and quantity of Indiana’s freshwater.

“The Nature Conservancy started working with agricultural ditches when we realized we were not moving the needle of success far enough,” said Larry Clemens of the Conservancy. “The Two-Stage Ditch is now one of the Conservancy’s strategies to improve habitat for fish and mussel species in our waterways.”

This Two-Stage Ditch design mimics a more natural stream channel when compared to the conventional channels found in most managed ditches. In constructing this new design, the current ditch channel is kept and “floodplain benches” are added to create added storage, which then confine water within the ditch when the original channel overflows. Two-Stage Ditches also reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients that reach rivers and streams. A half-mile segment of Two-Stage Ditch can remove upwards of 53 tons of sediment each year as a result of the stability that the system provides simply by reducing bank failure.

To date, through the efforts of the Conservancy and many partners, the Two-Stage Ditch has been implemented at 26 sites throughout Indiana, representing over 10 miles of ditch, with several more in the planning process. The IDEM funding will help initiate eight additional projects in the next two years, which will add four additional miles of Two-Stage Ditches.

“Sediments, bank failure, nitrogen and phosphorus reduction, water quality, reducing flooding, along with positive impacts to fish and invertebrates – few conservation practices address this many environmental concerns all at one time” said Kent Wamsley of the Conservancy. “And this IDEM funding will help us educate and promote the Two-Stage Ditch all across Indiana and other neighboring Midwest states.”

Wamsley added that the Two-Stage Ditch, although more costly to install, has far less maintenance costs over the long-term. This win-win situation maintains profitable farming, promotes a healthy freshwater system, and is a more permanent solution to a problem rather than a temporary fix.

The Conservancy has posted instructional slideshow presentations on its website——that provide graphic illustrations of how a Two-Stage Ditch works. A comprehensive list of conservation partners can also be found there.

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

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