Gaining Community Support for Major Agricultural Drainage Improvement Projects, One Landowner at a Time.

Most landowners, agencies, and consultants are beginning to see the mutual benefits of implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) that manage water, enhance crop conditions, and improve water quality. Multi-purpose drainage management (MDM) plans, which incorporate a combination of BMPs, tend to have the most significant impact on crop production, wildlife habitat, and water quality. However, the implementation phase of these plans require coordination with drainage authorities, multiple agencies, and landowners on a varying list of land practices, commitment levels, funding sources, and approvals necessary to proceed.

Why are landowners hesitant to support MDM and other drainage projects?

Landowners want to see that things work. I feel that they’re comfortable with the dependable drainage systems built one hundred years ago; however, many are unaware of the deteriorating condition of their existing system, and new ways to accomplish drainage, enhance crop production, and protect natural resources and habitats simultaneously. To get them fully on board, it is imperative that project teams build trust, introduce opportunities for outside funding, and present practical options for implementation.

What’s the best way to convince landowners that MDMs really are a win-win for drainage districts?

Bringing landowners together, listening to their concerns and priorities is the first step in building trust. Instead of pointing out individuals, strengthen the sense of the community of landowners within the watershed by encouraging each to take responsibility of one area of the project for which they are especially invested. Also, when meeting with a group of landowners, it is important to bring options for their consideration, including a good (baseline option), better (a great option), and best (a home run). Each of these options should include drainage repairs, improvements, and strategies to enhance crop conditions with a variety of BMPs. Each option should also reference the impact of potential grant and outside funding, as landowners are much more willing to introduce BMPs when these potential opportunities are available.

Most importantly, do not lead with water quality, the landowners are interested in drainage first and foremost. Introducing options without asking for commitments early on will allow the concepts to be understood first and consensus can build as the meeting progresses.

You mentioned funding is important to landowners – how do you go about coordinating applications between the landowners, agencies, and drainage authorities?

First of all, it is important to recognize that some landowners see public agencies as an adversary, with requirements that are time consuming to fulfill, making crop production more costly. Therefore, building trust and consensus among these groups are critical. Emphasizing that collaboration from multiple landowners significantly improves the drainage authority’s chances of actually securing funding verses individual landowners is a small, but nevertheless important first step in building support for cooperation.

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Chuck Brandel

Meet Chuck Brandel PE

Chuck is a widely recognized leader in agricultural drainage presenting to numerous Midwest groups including his recent presentations at the International Drainage Symposium in St. Paul, Minnesota. Chuck’s client commitment...

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