Early spring is a good time to make an annual inspection of your drainage system and ensure it’s working properly, says drainage contractor Charles Adams, A.J. Adams and Sons, Kansas, Ill. Pay special attention to outlets, which are the most neglected part of farm drainage systems, Adams says. “The ditch or creek will grow up in trees and the roots will get into the tile pipes, or beavers will chew on the outlet, or the pipe will break or be crushed by ice. There are a lot of things that can happen to outlets, and without an outlet, the system doesn’t have a chance of working.”

Here are some spring inspection tips from Midwest drainage experts:


  • Clear trash around outlets and remove other debris or tree roots.
  • Check that rodent guards are in place.
  • Look for erosion, gullies or silting at the outlet pipe and receiving ditch. Also check for water draining from underneath the outlet pipe.
  • Make sure subsurface drain outlets are stable and properly protected with vegetation and riprap.
  • Repair any eroded side inlets or gullies where surface water enters a ditch.
  • Remove water-loving trees growing within 100 ft. of the drain.
  • Monitor outlet ditches and remove sediment, trees, brush, or debris that could slow water flow and submerge tile outlets.


  • Remove residue and debris from around inlets in the spring and fall, and after heavy rainstorms. If soil has built up around the inlet riser, reshape the basin so water drains to the inlet.
  • Clean catch basin sumps.

In fields

  • Fix blowout holes and sink holes over subsurface drains. They indicate broken or severed tile, or drains under pressure.
  • Identify wet spots in the field that used to drain well. These indicate broken or crushed tile.


For more information see the University of Wisconsin’s “Maintaining Tile Drainage Systems” (http://bit.ly/12y4SMZ)


Sources: Gary Brenneman, Iowa State University; Gary Sands, University of Minnesota; Richard Cooke, University of Illinois; John Panuska, University of Wisconsin; Phil Algreen, AgriDrain; Charles Adams, A.J. Adams and Sons, Kansas, Ill.; Doug Wulf, Wulf Tiling, Morris, Minn.