“This is a low-tech, common-sense approach that is becoming accepted practice in the Midwest,” says ditch project manager Rich Biske, The Nature Conservancy, Preston, MN. Water probes automatically monitor water quality.

Indiana grower Kevin Willibey doesn’t think his stream “will ever get out of its banks again or erode our fields; it will stay where it is. After the last big rain, the ditch functioned just how it was meant to: The water spread out and flowed nice and easy. And it will be low-maintenance.

“Widening the ditch for the new design took about 10 ft. of ground, but it’s the right thing to do. That’s pretty obvious if you see the before and after.”

Actually, the two-stage ditch style occupies the same amount of land as conventional ones because the width of the buffer strip now lies within instead of outside the ditch, says Biske.

“As we change the landscape to accommodate straight property lines – more farming, more roads and more parking lots – we change how water moves across our landscape, asking a lot of our ditches,” says Chad Watts, project manager for The Nature Conservancy Wabash Rivers initiative,Winamac, IN.“In the name of predictability, dry basements and convenience, we move water more quickly through the conventional ditch system, eroding ditch banks. A two-stage ditch widens the stream channel to spread more water more slowly during floods.

“We’re on the early part of the adoption curve of what we hope is much wider scale adoption of two-stage ditches. And, people realize how much more onerous future government regulations might be if we don’t improve water quality on our own,” Watts says.

Biske adds, “We want to balance productive, profitable farms so important to our landscape; and nutrient and sediment loss, flooding and stress on aquatic diversity.”