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That part of Minnesota now receives on average four more inches of rain each year, he said. “and that water has to go somewhere. The land is flat. There is not enough capacity to hold four inches of rainfall year after year.”
Still, artificial drainage in Minnesota appears to be on the rise, said Wright of South Dakota State University. While other western Corn Belt states lost other types of grassland to agriculture, the change in Minnesota was clearly related to drainage, he said.
Some conservationists say there are ways to protect the rivers without hurting agricultural productivity. New designs in drainage systems hold water back by storing it in underground tanks, ponds and wetlands, greatly reducing the flow water during heavy rains.
“What we need are innovative solutions” that address both conservation and farmer productivity, said Rylee Main, project manager for the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance.
Schottler said that at some point every square foot of land could be drained, and the flow of water and loss of soil along the river banks will reach equilibrium. That may already be happening in some places, he said — the flow in the Blue Earth, for example, hasn’t changed in 15 years.
Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394