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Book: Agricultural Drainage
Published by: American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America



  1.  p. i-xxv
    Agronomy Monograph 38.
    Agricultural Drainage

    R.W. Skaggs and J. van Schilfgaarde (ed.)

    ISBN: 978-0-89118-230-6

    unlockOPEN ACCESS

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Front Matter


Nearly 150 years have passed since 1853 when the French engineer Delacroix started his carefully designed drainage experiments in the Sologne in Central France. The science of drainage since then has had a rich history. Highlights include Colding's ellipse equation in 1872 and the laboriously worked-out theories of Hooghoudt around 1940.

The big boost in modern drainage understanding came after 1940, and is marked by the use of potential flow concepts and exact theories for drainage design. In this period, a solid foundation for the solution of drainage problems was laid, and soil drainage theory earned the reputation of a basic scientific discipline. No one has contributed more to the progress made during this period than the late Don Kirkham (1908–1998). His first article on soil drainage dates from 1939, his last publication was in 1997, and he is a coauthor of Chapter 6 (“Steady Flow to Drains and Wells”) of this monograph. In between, over a period of 60 years, Don Kirkham published more than 100 articles on soil drainage in all the leading journals in this field. He carried on, completed, and extended the earlier work of both Colding and Hooghoudt and at the same time provided invaluable and highly regarded new theories. Possibly with the exception of Hooghoudt, no one else has influenced the course of soil drainage as a scientific discipline more than Don Kirkham. Because of his manifold and lasting contributions to this field of science it is most appropriate to dedicate the present monograph to him.

Don Kirkham was born 11 Feb. 1908 in Provo, Utah. He attended public schools in Salt Lake City and Berkeley, California. He spent two and a half years in Germany as a missionary for his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from 1927 to 1930, and then continued his education at Columbia University in New York City. Columbia University awarded him the A.B. degree (Physics) in 1933, and the A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in 1934 and 1938.

He started his professional career in 1937 as an instructor and assistant professor in mathematics and physics at Utah State University. Here, through his colleague Dr. Willard Gardner, Dr. Kirkham became interested in soil physics and published his first articles on soil drainage. During World War II and the year after (1940–1946) Dr. Kirkham served as civilian scientist with the U.S. Navy, working on the research physics of anti-mine warfare. In 1946 he headed a group of Navy physicists at the Bikini atom bomb tests. During the war years, in addition to his Navy work, he continued to study the physics of soil water and to publish on soil drainage. In 1946 he joined the staff at Iowa State University as Associate Professor of Soils and Physics, and in 1948 he was made Professor. In this capacity Don Kirkham served Iowa State University until 1978. In that year he was named Professor Emeritus. He continued to carry on research, and initially also teaching, until shortly before his death on 7 Mar. 1998.

Don Kirkham (1908–1999)


Don Kirkham shown working at his desk at Iowa State University (1979).


Through his long and intense engagement in both research and teaching Dr. Kirkham has had an enormous impact on developments in the science of soil and groundwater. However, his influence is not restricted to soil drainage and hydrology, but comprises the entire field of soil physics. He is author or coauthor of more than 200 research papers, numerous chapters in handbooks and monographs, and of a worldwide highly regarded textbook entitled Advanced Soil Physics. He is one of the very few scholars who contributed to all three monographs on soil drainage. Rendering service to his profession, he travelled extensively and spent extended periods of time in such countries as the Netherlands, Belgium, Egypt, and Turkey. He served on the editorial boards of both Soil Science and Water Resources Research and served actively, at home and abroad, on numerous committees for organizations such as the Soil Science Society of America, National Science Foundation, National Research Council, and FAO.

He has received numerous honors and awards. Among them are the Honorary Doctor's Degrees from the Royal Agricultural University in Ghent (Belgium) and from the Ohio State University, the International Wolf Foundation Prize for Agriculture from the State of Israel, the Stevenson Award from the Soil Science Society of America, the Horton Medal for Outstanding Contributions to the Geophysical Aspects of Hydrology from the American Geophysical Union, the Bouyoucos Soil Science Award from the Soil Science Society of America, and the title of Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture from Iowa State University. He was a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, the American Physical Society, the Soil Science Society of America, and the American Geophysical Union. He was named Honorary Member of the Soil Science Society of America, the International Soil Science Society, and the International Soil Tillage Research Organization. He was the first Inductee to the Drainage Hall of Fame.

Don Kirkham's achievements as a counselor of graduate students are remarkable. Under his supervision 72 students were guided towards an advanced degree in soil physics: Fifty-seven of them received a Ph.D. degree, fifteen a M.S. degree, and seventeen received both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. A large number of them became university professors themselves, either in the USA or abroad. This large number of students partly explains Don Kirkham's lasting impact on soil physics and agricultural drainage.

In addition to his exceptional abilities in research and teaching, Don Kirkham was a man of outstanding character and integrity. He was gentle, generous, and unpretentious, and recognized unenviously skills and achievements of others. To honor and commemorate him and his wife, colleagues, friends and former students recently have established the Don and Betty Kirkham Soil Physics Award Program and the Don Kirkham Conference Program that will promote permanently basic research in soil physics. Both programs are managed by the Agronomic Science Foundation of the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA.

It is truly fitting that the monograph Agricultural Drainage is dedicated to this unique scientist and man.


University of Hannover, Hannover, Germany


Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa


Drainage of land has been an important beneficial water management tool for improving crop production around the world. Its importance is reflected in the fact that this volume represents the third time that the American Society of Agronomy has published a monograph on this topic in the past 40 years. Earlier volumes were published in 1957 and 1975. This volume summarizes the information developed during the past two decades and deals with the many aspects of contemporary agricultural irrigation and drainage systems, placing these systems into the perspective of comprehensive water management.

This volume is timely, as agricultural drainage has again caught the public's attention since the middle of the 1990s, following the record-breaking floods on the Mississippi River and Red River of the North, in the upper Midwest of the United States of America. The information presented in this monograph will be useful for understanding how drainage may modify the natural ecosystems and enhance the productivity of the land for agricultural purposes. It can serve as the scientific basis for decision makers in developing management strategies to improve the soil conditions of the field and protect water quality from contamination by cropping practices.

This monograph also can serve as a guide in formulating water management policies while considering the interrelations that exist between drainage and other natural components, such as wetlands, wildlife, streams, floodplains, nutrient management, and hypoxia. The challenge will be to design and operate drainage systems that will give producers maximum benefit, while keeping adverse effects to a minimum. We must strive to find a balance between the benefit of a bountiful food supply for the human society and benefits of a healthy ecosystem that supports and protects natural biodiversity.

As officers of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA, we wish to express our sincere thanks to the editors and authors of this volume for their effort in bringing up-to-date the voluminous information on agricultural drainage. We heartily endorse the dedication of this volume in memory of the outstanding contributions by Dr. Don Kirkham to our understanding of agricultural drainage.

H.H. Cheng,president, ASA

L.E. Moser, president, CSSA

G.A. Petersen, president, SSSA


Drainage, the process of removing excess water from the land, is essential for agriculture on many of the world's most productive lands. While the actual beginning of drainage is obscure in antiquity, we know from the writings of Herodotus that it was practiced in Egypt as early as the 5th century B.C. Directions for installation and operation of drainage systems were given by the Roman Cato around 160 B.C.

Modern drainage theory is rooted in the fundamental work of Henry Darcy in the 19th century, followed later in that century and in the early part of the 20th century by important works by Dupuit, Boussinesq and L.A. Richards(in the 1930s), among others. However, the greatest part of the body of knowledge on drainage theory and practice has been developed since the 1940s. While the list of contributors to the theory of drainage is long and distinguished, no contribution has exceeded that of Don Kirkham (1908–1998), to whom this monograph is dedicated. Kirkham and his students developed most of our current theory for saturated flow to drains under ponded surface conditions, while also contributing significantly to the theory of flow during water table drawdown, to interceptor drains and numerous related topics.

The state-of-the-art in agricultural drainage was summarized in 1957 in Agronomy Monograph 7, Drainage of Agricultural Lands, edited by J.N. Luthin. This was followed in 1975 by Agronomy Monograph 17, Drainage for Agriculture, edited by Jan van Schilfgaarde. These volumes have served as principal references for drainage scientists, engineers, practitioners, and students for over 40 years. Both are out of print.

This monograph is an attempt to summarize the important elements of the theory and practice of agricultural drainage. It reviews material presented in Agronomy Monographs 7 and 17 and introduces new developments in the field since Agronomy Monograph 17 was published. The scope has been expanded somewhat to include environmental impacts and water table management.

Much has changed in the field of drainage since 1975. Our ability to describe the performance of drainage systems has improved with the continued evolution of drainage theory and with the development of computer simulation models that enable prediction over time of the performance of drainage systems, including effects of drainage design on yields and profits. At the same time, recognition of the importance of wetlands and the effect of agricultural drainage on loss of fertilizer nutrients and other potential contaminants has placed new constraints and additional objectives on the design and operation of drainage systems. Drainage is now seen not just as water removal, but as an integral part of total water management.

The decision to write this third drainage monograph resulted from a recommendation of a small ASA committee chaired by James D. Rhoades in 1989. An editorial committee consisting of Norman Fausey, James Fouss, M.T. van Genuchten, John Letey, Chandra Madramootoo, George Merva, James D. Rhoades, Jan van Schilfgaarde, and Wayne Skaggs was convened in 1990 to delineate the scope of the volume, develop an outline and identify potential authors. The editorial committee met during an ASAE meeting in Chicago as members of that Society worked closely with members of ASA in the planning and authorship of the Monograph.

This Monograph could not have been prepared without the active participation of many individuals. The excellent cooperation of the many authors is gratefully acknowledged, as is the considerable efforts of numerous scientists and engineers who willingly gave of their time to review manuscript drafts and otherwise assist in the preparation of the monograph.


R. Wayne Skaggs

Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina

Jan van Schilfgaarde

Agricultural Research Service (retired), 3000 Lisette Court, Fort Collins, Colorado


I.P.Abrol, Programme Facilitator, Rice-Wheat Consortium for Indu Gangetic Plains. ICRISAT, IARI Campus, Pusa, New Delhi 110012

Lajpat R. Ahuja, Research Leader, USDA-ARS-NPA, Great Plains Systems Research Unit. 30 I S. Howes, P.O. Box E, Fort Collins. CO 80522

Aziz Amoozegar, Professor of Soil Science, North Carolina State University, Soil Science Department, Box 7619, Raleigh, NC 27695-7619

Adrian Armstrong, Principal Research Consultant, ADAS Gleadthorpe. Meden Vale. Mansfield, Notts, England NG20 9PF

Mohamed T. EI-Ashry, Chief Executive Officer, Global Environment Facility. 1818 H. Street, N.W.. Washington, DC 20433

James E. Ayars, Research Agricultural Engi neer. USDA-ARS. 2021 S. Peach Avenue, Fresno, CA 93727-5951

J.L. Baker, Distinguished Professor, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011

Harold W. Belcher, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Engineering, 101 Farrail Hall. Michigan State University, East Lansing. Mi 48824

Leo C. Benz, Agricultural Engineer (retired), USDA-ARS. 1407 N. 23rd Street, Bismarck. ND 58501-3005

Robert S. Broughton, Emeritus Professor, Centre for Drainage Studies, McGill University, Macdonald Campus, 21 , III Lakeshore Road. Sainte Anne de Bellevue PQ Canada H9X 3V9

Cade E. Carter, Agricultural Engineer (retired), USDA-ARS, 743 Seyburn Court, Baton Rouge, LA 70808

Douglas A. Castle, Centre Manager (retired), ADAS Soil & Water Research Centre, Anstey Hall, Trumpington, Cambridge, England CB2 2LF; present address is 7 Armstrong Close, Wilstead, Bedford MK45 3EA

George M. Chescheir, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State Uni versity. Box 7695, Raleigh, NC 27695-7695

Sietan Chieng, Professor of Soil & Water Engineering, Bio-Resource Engineering, University of British Columbia, 2357 Main Mall, Vancouver, B.c., Canada V6T IZ4

Willy R. Dierickx, Senior Scientist, Governmental Research Station for Agricultural Engineering. Van Gansberghelaan 11 5, B-9820 Merelbeke, Belgium

Eugene J. Doering, Agricultural Engineer (retired), USDA-ARS, 1300 Iva Court, Fort Collins, CO 80525-4866

Alfred M. Duda, Team Leader for Biodiversity and International Waters, Global Environment Facility, 1818 H. Street, N.W. (G-6035). Washington, DC 20433

D.S. Durnford, Professor, Department of Chemical & Bioresource Engineering. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1370

Robert O. Evans, Associate Professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Box 7625, Raleigh. NC 27695

Norman R. Fausey, Soil Scientist/Research Leader, USDA-ARS, Soil Drainage Research Unit, 590 Woody Hayes Drive, Columbus, OH 43210

S.R. Grattan, Reinder A. Feddes, Professor of Soil Physics and Agrohydrology, Wageningen Agricultural University, Department of Environmental Sciences, Sub-Department Water Resources, Nieuwe Kanaalll, 6709 PA Wageningen, The Netherlands

James L. Fouss, Research Leader (Agricultural Engineer), USDA-ARS, Soil and Water Research Unit, 4115 Gourrier Ave., Baton Rouge, LA 70808- 4499

J.W. Gilliam, William Neal Reynolds Professor, Department of Soil Science, North Carolina State University, Box 7619, Raleigh, NC 27695-7619

S.R. Grattan, Plant-Water Relations Specialist, University of California, Davis, One Shield Ave., Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Glenn J. Hoffman, Head, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska, 223 Chase Hall, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583-0726

Robert Horton, Professor of Soil Physics, Iowa State University, Agronomy Department, Ames, IA 500 II

Don Kirkham, Distinguished Professor of Soil Physics (deceased), Iowa State University, Agronomy Department, Ames, IA 50011

Keith C. Knapp, Professor of Resource Economics, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Cali fomi a, Riverside, CA 92521

Peter Leeds-Harrison, Reader in Soil Physics and Drainage, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Silsoe College, Cranfield University, Silsoe, Bedord, England MK 45 4DT

Feike J. Leij, Soil Physicist, U.S. Salinity Laboratory, 450 W. Big Springs Road, Riverside, CA 92507-4617

J. Letey, Professor of Soil Physics, University of California, Riverside, Department of Soil and Environmental Science, Riverside, CA 92521

E.V. Maas, Plant Physiologist, Collaborator, U.S. Salinity Laboratory, USDAARS, 450 W. Big Springs Road, Riverside, CA 92507-45617

Chandra A. Madramootoo, Professor of Drainage Engineering, McGill University, 21, III Lakeshore Road, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, Canada H9X 3V9

Fred Marinelli, Research Associate, Department of Civil Engineering, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523

David B. Mc Whorter, Professor, Department of Chemical and Bioresource Engineering, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523

P.A. Moore, Jr., 115 Plant Science Building, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701

John L. Nieber, Professor, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, University of Minnesota, 1390 Eckles Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108

Donald R. Nielsen, Professor of Soil and Water Science, 113 Veihmeyer Hall, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8628

J.D. Oster, Extension Soil and Water Specialist, University of California, Environmental Sciences Department, Riverside, CA 92521

John E. Parsons, Associate Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Box 7625, Raleigh, NC 27695-7625

W.H. Patrick, Jr., Laboratory for Wetland Soils & Sediments, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803

Walter J. Rawls, Hydrologist, USDA-ARS, Hydrology Laboratory, Building 007, Room 104, BARC-W, Beltsville, MD 20707

K.R.Reddy, Graduate Research Professor, University of Florida, Soil and Water Science Department, 106 Newell Hall, P.O. Box 110510, Gainesville, FK 32611

J.D. Rhoades, Soil Scientist (retired), U.S. Salinity Laboratory, 450 West Big Springs Road, Riverside, CA 92507

Mark Robinson, Programme Leader Land Use Science, CEH Institute of Hydrology, Institute of Hydrology, Wallingford, OXON, OXIO 8BB, England

David Rycroft, Director, The Institute of Irrigation and Development Studies, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southhampton SO17 1BJ

Fred M. Sandoval, Research Soil Scientist (retired), USDA-ARS, 184 Storm Mountain Road, Rio Rancho, NM 87124

G.O. Schwab, Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Engineering, Ohio State University, 590 Woody Hayes Drive, Food, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210

I. Shainberg, Soil Scientist,Institute of Soils and Water, Agricultural Research Organization, Volcani Center, POB 6, Bet Dagan 50250, Israel

Jiri Simunek, Soil Physicist, U.S. Salinity Laboratory, USDA-ARS, 450 W. Big Springs Road, Riverside, CA 92507

R. Wayne Skaggs, W.N. Reynolds and Distinguished University Professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Box 7625. Raleigh, NC 27695-7625

Gordon Spoor, Professor of Applied Soil Physics, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Silsoe College, Cranfield University, Silsoe, Bedford, England MK45 4DT

Louis C.P.M. Stuyt, Senior Research Associate, DLO-Winand Staring Centre, P.O. Box 125, NL-6700 AC Wageningen, The Netherlands

Donald L. Suarez, Geochemist, U.S. Salinity Laboratory, USDA-ARS, 450 W. Big Springs Road, Riverside, CA 92507-4617

Kenneth K. Tanji, Professor, Department of Land, Air & Water Resources, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Daniel L. Thomas, Professor, Biological & Agricultural Engineering Department, Coastal Plain Experiment Station, University of Georgia, Tifton, GA 31793- 0748

Nobuo Toride, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Sciences, Saga University, Saga 840, Japan

Peng-Hsieng Tseng, Hydrologist, Geoanalysis Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, EE 5, MS T665, Los Alamos NM 87545

H. van Breemen, Professor, Department of Soil Science and Geology, Wageningen Agricultural University, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands

Rienk R. van der Ploeg, Professor of Soil Science (formerly with the Department of Agronomy, Martin-Luther-University, Halle, Germany), Institute of Soil Science, University of Hannover, Herrenhaeuser Str. 2, 30419 Hannover, Germany

Martinus Th. van Genuchten, Soil Physicist, U.S. Salinity Laboratory, USDA-ARS, 450 W. Big Springs Road, Riverside, CA 92507-4617

Jan van Schilfgaarde, Associate Deputy Administrator, Natural Resources and Systems, Agricultural Research Service (retired), 3000 Lisette Court, Fort Collins, CO 80526

Tom Vogel, Civil Engineer, Czech Technical University, Faculty of Civil Engineering, Department of Hydraulics & Hydrology, Thakurova 7, 16629 Prague, Czech Republic

A.W. Warrick, Professor of Soil Physics, 429 Shantz 38, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721

Lyman S. Willardson, Professor, Department of Biological and Irrigation Engineering, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-4105

R.D. Williams, Plant Physiologist, USDA-ARS, P.O. Box 730, Langston University, Langston, OK

G.V. Wilson, Vadose Zone Hydrologist, Desert Research Institute, 755 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89119

S.R. Yates, Soil Scientist and Professor of Soil Physics, USDA-ARS, U.s. Salinity Laboratory, 450 W. Big Springs Road, Riverside, CA 92507

E.G. Youngs, Visiting Professor of Soil Physics, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Silsoe College, Cranfield University, Silsoe, Bedfordshire, MK45 4DT, England

Toni E.J. van Zeijts, Ecological and Drainage Engineer, DLG for Sustainable Land and Water Management, P.O. Box 20021,3502 LA Utrecht, The Netherlands

G. Zijlstra, Agricultural Drainage Engineer (retired), International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement (ILRI), P.O. Box 45, 6700AA Wageningen, The Netherlands



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