The Conservation Drainage Network, formed in 2019, builds on the strong foundation of several partnerships.
The Agricultural Drainage Management Systems (ADMS) Task Force was a national partnership with the goal of improving drainage practices to reduce adverse environmental impacts while enhancing crop production and conserving water. The ADMS Task Force was initiated in 2002 by employees of federal, state, and local government agencies and universities, then formally established in early 2003 as a technical work group of USDA’s Partnership Management Team (PMT), a collaborative effort among the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS); Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); and the Cooperative State, Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES, which later became NIFA). James Fouss of USDA ARS led the group for many years, with additional leadership by Wil Fontenot, Mike Sullivan, Doug Toews, and Paul Sweeney of NRCS, Norm Fausey of ARS, and Jane Frankenberger of Purdue University who was asked to represent CSREES since she had recently spent a sabbatical year at the agency. She developed and maintained the email list (called “drainman” for the first 12 years) and documented meeting activities and decisions (https://conservationdrainage.net/meetings-and-events/meetings/). For more information see Fouss, J.L. and Sullivan, M., 2009. Agricultural drainage management systems task force (ADMSTF). In World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2009. https://doi.org/10.1061/41036(342)411.
The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC) was formed by the drainage industry in 2004 and partnered with the ADMS Task Force to promote and improve drainage water management. The two organizations remained separate to avoid any legal conflicts of interest but worked together to achieve the goal of improving water quality and increasing yield in drained agricultural land. Charlie Schafer of AgriDrain played a key role in forming and leading the organization, and together with Executive Directors including Leonard Binstock, Keegan Kult, and others has been instrumental in implementing drainage management practices. See https://admcoalition.com/ for more information.
North Central Extension and Research Activity 217 (NCERA-217) is a multi-state group organized within the land grant universities regional research and extension structure. This has enabled land grant university and USDA NIFA funding to support researcher and extension specialist participation in the ADMS Task Force. NCERA-217 members have conducted most of the key research related to innovative drainage water management and played an active role in education. The annual meeting of these groups came to be called “ADMS Task Force and NCERA-217”.
For many years these groups met together, first two or three times a year, then annually. Besides the USDA agencies, other federal agencies that took an active role in these meetings were the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). State agencies were also involved, especially the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and some state environmental and natural resource agencies addressing water quality issues on agriculturally drained lands. Nongovernmental organizations often participated, as well as industry and contractors. The Transforming Drainage project was funded by USDA NIFA in 2015 with the goal of increasing resiliency of drained agricultural lands through storage of drainage water in the landscape. It focuses on three practices – controlled drainage, saturated buffers, and drainage water recycling – and supports field data collection and database development as well as models, tools, and education to transform drainage systems. The project has a close connection with these organization as the proposal was developed by members of NCERA-217 at the 2014 ADMS Task Force meeting, and many members of the Task Force and ADMC serve on the advisory committee. Transforming Drainage has supported the drainage network in many ways, including in the development of the new Conservation Drainage Network as described below.
2018 – Developing a new structure
After USDA ended the Partnership Management Team, a new structure was needed to continue the partnerships that had been so productive in advancing new drainage management systems. In 2018 at the meeting in Raleigh NC, a work group was formed to suggest a new structure to allow the many partners to continue to meet together to promote drainage management for water quality. Work group members were Ruth Book, Chris Hay, Jim Dobrowolski, Jeff Frey, and Jane Frankenberger.
They proposed a standalone organization that would not be a formal entity, guided by a Board (later called the Organizing Committee) that would be responsible for moving the organization and its goals forward. Discussions continued throughout the year to ensure that the new structure would be well received by partnering agencies. Federal agency representatives were called advisors, and the word “network” seemed to better convey the partnership nature of the organization, in addition to avoiding any confusion with federal task forces. This new organization does not simply replace the ADMS Task Force, although the ADMS Task Force no longer exists. Instead its structure is an umbrella, with the organizing committee representing all these organizations.
2019 – A network for the future
The structure was approved unanimously at the 2019 meeting of the ADMS Task Force and NCERA-217 in Moorhead Minnesota. Participants made suggestions for the new organization, and designated a nominating committee to formalize Organizing Committee membership. Members were voted on and appointed by the federal agencies. The Organizing Committee began to meeting in late 2019 and one of the first tasks was to select the name Conservation Drainage Network, as well as finalizing and documenting the structure for the new organization and planning the inaugural Annual Meeting in 2020.
The website was developed with the support of the NIFA-funded Transforming Drainage project, especially Benjamin Reinhart who was instrumental in developing the structure and pages, designing the logo, and writing text together with Jane Frankenberger. The Transforming Drainage project has invested heavily in the development of the Conservation Drainage Network so that it can continue to move drainage management and storage forward after the project ends in 2021. The informative website serves as a foundation for the Conservation Drainage Network’s outreach and documentation of supporting research.
The Conservation Drainage Network builds on strong past partnerships and will succeed in the future thanks to the many partners and organizations that collaborate and contribute to moving conservation drainage forward.