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What is Surface Drainage?

By Sonal Panse
Updated May 17, 2024
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In areas of heavy rainfall or low soil percolation, it is necessary to employ surface drainage systems to get rid of surplus surface water from the land. Commonly used surface drainage systems include shallow ditches, open channels, grassed waterways and sloped banks. These drainage systems drain away surface water quickly and efficiently, but do not make much of a difference to groundwater. If there are land drainage problems due to groundwater, they will need other solutions.

Surface drainage needs to be carefully planned by taking into account the land's topography, the amount of rainfall received, and the type of soil. In some cases, shallow ditches following the land contour may be enough, in others the ditches may need to be deeper or the land may need to be graded or sloped to facilitate soil drainage. The ditches may follow a random pattern or a parallel pattern.

Large fields with a good many depression areas do well with randomly patterned field ditches. These shallow ditches follow the land contours, do not impede the movement of farm machinery and drain away water from depressed areas. Parallel field ditches are excellent for agricultural drainage on flatter types of lands, and are also used as to prevent erosion on sloping farm lands. Water from the field ditches is drained away into side ditches. The side ditches then carry water to an outlet channel.

Other methods for effective surface drainage include land grading and smoothing. Both of these involve using soil moving equipment like tractors, scrapers and land levelers to alter the land surface to make it easier for the surface water to run off. The land is first graded to give it a proper slope and it is then smoothed to remove any depressions or obstructions.

Open drains and ditches need to be regularly maintained to keep them free from silt deposits and vegetation growth. They also need to be monitored for signs of erosion. Sometimes the open ditches, if they happen to be rather deep, may require to be fenced to prevent animals and people from falling into them accidentally.

Surface drainage is important in farm areas as it prevents many water-related land problems and ensures that crops do not become waterlogged. Having a proper surface drainage system also prevents the topsoil from being washed away. The drained water is usually carried away to a stream, river, dam or another drain.

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Discussion Comments

By Perdido — On May 16, 2012

If you are going to make a sloped hill on the edge of your property for stormwater drainage, it is best to plant grass on it. This will keep the soil from eroding and causing a possible landslide.

There are acres of untended land in my county, and many of them include hills of red dirt. I can see where landslides have occurred, because a chunk of earth has dropped away, leaving behind a steep cliff. This erosion stops at the tree line, because the tree roots hold the earth securely in place.

Many of the nicer yards in my neighborhood are on hills, and all of them have grassy slopes. Even the channels that the owners have dug for surface drainage are lined with grass, so the dirt stays put.

By StarJo — On May 15, 2012

@Oceana – The underground pipe idea sounds good, but it may not be necessary. I also have an above ground pool, and I can tell you that a shallow ditch may be all you need to ensure that the surface water drains away.

It took a lot of sweat and sore muscles, but I dug a shallow ditch about twenty feet long to lead the pool water out of my back yard. I sloped the sides down to a point, so the ditch looks like a long “V.”

Now, my yard doesn't stay soggy for hours after a backwashing. Also, whenever it rains, this ditch helps transport the water away from my low-lying back yard.

By Oceana — On May 15, 2012

I have an above ground swimming pool, and I've been having issues with surface water. Every couple of weeks, I have to backwash the pool, which means that a large amount of water has to be flushed out of the filter onto the ground. My yard is extremely flat, and the water has nowhere to go.

What would be the most efficient way to drain this water out of my yard? Should I install an underground pipe and hook the backwash hose up to it, or should I dig some sort of ditch?

My yard is surrounded by a vacant field, and a ditch runs along the perimeter of my property. Whatever system I decide to use, it will need to lead to this.

By lighth0se33 — On May 14, 2012

I live near an area of flat farmland with a large system of surface water drainage ditches. A highway runs through the farmland, so it is very important that the water have a way to drain.

There are four or five deep ditches that run through the land, and when it rains a lot, these become raging rivers. Bridges run across all of them, and there have been times when we received so much rain that even the ditches couldn't drain it all away, and all the land turned into a big lake. It was really scary to drive across the highway with the water so close on all sides.

For the most part, though, these ditches do what they were intended to do. It is a very rare occurrence that we get so much rain that these small rivers can't contend with it.

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