Farming is one of the Midwest’s greatest legacies. Although rooted in the region’s history, the agricultural industry is also evolving rapidly, driving drainage system innovation and pushing landowners and engineering professionals to redefine the modern farming landscape. Let’s talk to a few engineers from ISG who are collaborating with drainage districts, communities, and landowners to do just that.
CHUCK BRANDEL PE
Q: Agricultural drainage systems are incredibly complex – how do you navigate these complexities while protecting water quality?
Each drainage system project, whether it is a repair or improvement, is an opportunity to do something better; drain the water better, capture sediment better, store water better, and reduce downstream flooding and erosion. The key to truly making a positive impact is bringing water quality ideas into a project early. At ISG, we typically complete a feasibility study to discuss options on how to fix the drainage issue, look at alternatives, and provide cost effective solutions. In doing so, there are many water quality practices, such as water quality inlets on tile, alternative side inlets on open ditches, and culvert sizing, that can help reduce erosion, provide temporary storage, reduce peak flow, and be cost effective.
Fun Fact: As a child growing up along the Cottonwood River, Chuck and his friends would create small dams from some of the tributaries and streams that drained into the river, temporarily rerouting the flow to see how long the dams would last or if they ended up rerouting the flow. Then they’d go back and make it better. Today, Chuck still carries that same childhood passion throughout his work for Midwest agricultural communities.
Chuck leads ISG’s Civil Engineering Group, and has presented as an expert speaker at regional and international drainage conferences.
Brian Blomme PE
Q: What actions are being taken today to protect the future of agriculture and the health of our water systems?
Iowa has taken the first step in creating a long-term, funding source for water quality with the passage of Senate File 512. Once completely implemented, an additional $27 million per year will be added to existing appropriations. This commitment to water quality is exciting, and will allow for creative and innovative solutions to improve water quality when implementing designs, while also helping landowners replace the 100+ year old agricultural drainage infrastructure currently serving much of northwest Iowa.
Fun Fact: Farming is in Brian’s blood. He grew up on a Century Farm in southeast Iowa, which his father still owns and operates. Brian assists in spring and fall, and helps make decisions concerning the farming operations and its future. His father-in-law also is an active farmer near Schaller, Iowa. Brian hopes to pass the family land along to his three children someday.
Working from ISG’s Storm Lake office, Brian leads agricultural drainage projects across Iowa.
Mark Origer PE
Q: What’s one of the most important – and rewarding – aspects of working in agricultural drainage?
Collaboration early on is the key to a successful agricultural drainage project. Many of the involved stakeholders (Drainage Authorities, landowners/farmers, policy members, DNR, and other agencies) have similar goals related to crop production, downstream flooding, and water quality. As engineers, we’ve found that without collaboration early on, these targeted goals can be missed. To maximize improvements to water quality, stakeholders that join forces and uphold mutually agreed upon goals can achieve the best outcomes. It is rewarding as an engineer to serve in a role where you can help bring a group of stakeholders together and work toward water quality improvements while also enhancing habitat, and conditions for crop production.
Fun Fact: As an avid swimmer and water skier, Mark dives head first into all things water. In fact, he’s headed to South Carolina to attend a professional water ski course. Plus, each summer Mark serves as an Adaptive Water Ski instructor.
Mark spearheads ISG’s water quality work in Minnesota from the Mankato headquarters.