Controlled drainage



Case Study Contents

About Farm

Farm Name


Year of foundation



Limburg, Flanders

Farm area/size of the organisation:

Medium (20-100 ha)

Number of workers:

< 5

Farm main activity:


Climate and soil characteristics

Temperate climate with 925 mm of precipitation yearly.

Sandy soils.


Measure Information

Description of the measure

Controlled drainage is the practice of using a water control structure to raise the depth of the drainage outlet, holding water in the field during periods when drainage is not needed. Unlike conventional free-draining systems that remove excess soil water to the drain depth, controlled drainage increases water retention and storage within the soil profile.

Objective of the measure

To hold water in the field during periods when drainage is not needed to increase groundwater levels.

Justification of the choice

Controlled drainage allows keeping the parcel water levels manageable, improving water management and reducing drought risks.

Description of the situation before the measure implementation

Before the measure there was a classical drainage system that drained water constantly.


Stakeholders involved

LEADER Kempen & Maasland

Description of stakeholders’ role

LEADER subsidies

Implementation phase

Description of the survey done for the implementation

Talks with farmers, visit with senior advisor from soil service Belgium, visit with drainage company

Materials used

  • PVC drains,
  • PVC control pits.

Costs for the implementation


Utilization of subsidies


Implementation / building

V-plowing machine installing drains, all drains are connected to a main drain which ends in a control pit which in turn gives access to a water-removing ditch.

Installation of the main drain requires small digger

Required maintenance operations

Removing or adding control pipe

Recommended knowledge / skills / training / courses / education desired before starting the measure implementation

Learning by doing is essential.

Certainly, a short explanation of the system is needed.


Control drainage reduces the need for overhead irrigation in times of drought and reduces downstream water flooding in wet season since water is stored locally.
The measure aids local natural areas that depend on high groundwater levels. Additionally, it decreases nutrient losses (N and P) to water streams.
Controlled drainage is better than classic drainage systems in retaining more water, but of course it is less effective compared to undrained land.


Innovation elements

System is increasingly in use since 2010.

The main innovative aspect is the fact that draining can be controlled (i.e. stopped during large parts of the year).

Key element for success

Correct handling of control pipe, remove pipe as shortly as possible before field works, return pipe as soon as possible after field works.


Physical constraints

The measure cannot be applied in steep soils.

Acceptance constraints

It is more and more accepted since drought periods are causing negative impacts on farms.

Proposed solutions to above constraints

Solid desktop analysis with additional terrain visit and informing the farmer actively.

Sensibilisation and diffusion of the measure.


Lesson learned


“I am very satisfied with the system. The water rises when I need it and I can drain it in spring when I need to access my fields. During the last summers which were very dry I could increase groundwater levels of about 40 cm. It gives me financial revenues, especially considering the hot weather during last summers; and all of this with no (overhead) irrigation!”

Measure sustainability

Environmental sustainability

Groundwater levels can be upped by at least 10 cm compared to classical drainage systems (after transforming them).

Economical sustainability

Revenues range from about 100€/ha/y to 400€/ha/y depending on which crop is grown.

Transfer of the measure

Replicability conditions required

  • Need access to water removing ditch
  • not possible on very slopy terrain
  • best results in well permeable soils with relatively high groundwater levels
  • Subsidies help to overcome initial investment.

Conclusion remarks

The measure proved to be effective when the field necessary conditions are met.

Future plans

Continuing the spreading of this technique to other farmers.

Open problems

Project funds should stop emphasizing ”innovative techniques” and allow for solid techniques that have proven their use to be rolled out on a larger scale.

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