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Tiling: The need runs deep

Some pieces of land have eroded into large gullies due to extensive water running through fields. With tiling, the water is diverted underground and soil on top can once again be put to productive use.

To help prevent erosion mainly in agricultural fields, landowners are turning to tiling more and more.

A practice that started in Becker County about 15 to 20 years ago is now so popular and beneficial, the people working in the Becker County Soil and Water Conservation office in Detroit Lakes can barely keep up with the requests.

"At first we had to sell the practice. Now, it is such a well-liked practice," said Dean Hendrickson. "Basically, we're taking water underground instead of over ground."

Hendrickson and Jeff Norby said they've seen some gullies as large as 10-by-15-feet.

While the local conservation office helps with tiling for erosion control, Norby and Hendrickson said they avoid tiling for drainage practices, though that is done as well. It's the erosion causing massive gullies that they are concerned about.

For the first 10-15 years, Soil and Water workers would go out and find land that would qualify for the tiling and talk to the landowners about the project.

In the last five years though, they don't have to sell the program at all -- requests are pouring in.

Once the site is determined and the land is surveyed, an engineered design is drawn up specifying intake locations, the grade of the land, the volume of water that needs to be moved, and how many intakes are needed to cure the problem.

"Capacity is critical," Hendrickson said.

Once determined, the tile -- which is actually corrugated thermal plastic tubing that is on average 6-8-inches in diameter -- is dug down three feet in the ground several feet over from the existing gully.

It's buried at least three feet underground so it's not damaged from equipment driving over the tubing.

The tile is then run underground to the outlet, which averages about 700-800 feet away. Some jobs are much longer though.

"There are some by Lake Park that took years to design and months to install," Norby said of the more complex systems.

The men said they got some of the easier projects out of the way and now many of the tiling projects they are working on are much more intricate.

"We survey the site, come up with a design, stake it out and supervise the construction," Hendrickson said.

With the tiling equipment in place, the water holds for 24 hours and then drains down to the outlet. The holding is the key part, making sure the sediment stays in the soil and not running to nearby water sources.

Therefore, the phosphorus in the soil is kept out of the lakes, rivers and steams that it usually pours into, making lake quality much better with less phosphorus.

"It can reduce how fast that lake is aging," Norby said.

And with the new tiling in place, the fields are usable without huge gullies dividing the land.

"It dries out the soil profile," Hendrickson added.

Cost of the projects depends on how much is involved. The average is estimated at $6,000, but larger projects can cost as much as $50,000. Most are cost-shared, with about 75 percent coming from state and federal funds and 25 percent coming from the landowner.

The Becker Soil and Water Conservation District averages about 40-50 projects a year, and the projects are surveyed and designed during the winter so they are ready for installation once spring hits.

Although the group works with the most up-to-date technology, Norby said that can't ever replace one-on-one communication with landowners.

"You have to maintain landowner contact. There is a lot of coordinating with the landowner," he said. "We have the latest and greatest technology, but that can't replace landowner contact."

They also work closely with area watershed districts including Pelican River, Buffalo-Red and Wild Rice.

"Our biggest challenge is keeping up with requests," Norby said.

After years of working with the projects though, and with advancements in technology, projects that used to take days to survey now take hours.

Which is good since anti-erosion tiling is in high demand.

"There is more demand for them than we have time to install them," Hendrickson said.