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High density polyethylene pipe installation in a storm drain project, Mexico. Hdpe pipe installation.jpg
High density polyethylene pipe installation in a storm drain project, Mexico.

Drainage is the natural or artificial removal of a surface's water and sub-surface water from an area with excess of water. The internal drainage of most agricultural soils is good enough to prevent severe waterlogging (anaerobic conditions that harm root growth), but many soils need artificial drainage to improve production or to manage water supplies.



Early history

Remains of a drain at Lothal circa 3000 BC A drain at Lothal.jpg
Remains of a drain at Lothal circa 3000 BC

The Indus Valley Civilization had advanced sewerage and drainage systems. All houses in the major cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro had access to water and drainage facilities. Waste water was directed to covered gravity sewers, which lined the major streets. [1]

18th and 19th century

Tank Stream, a historical drain in the City of Sydney Tank Stream.jpg
Tank Stream, a historical drain in the City of Sydney

The invention of hollow-pipe drainage is credited to Sir Hugh Dalrymple, who died in 1753. [2]

Current practices

A plastic (PVC) flexible drainage pipe, used to drain water from the roof of a residential house or building FlexibleRainPipe.JPG
A plastic (PVC) flexible drainage pipe, used to drain water from the roof of a residential house or building


New drainage systems incorporate geotextile filters that retain and prevent fine grains of soil from passing into and clogging the drain. Geotextiles are synthetic textile fabrics specially manufactured for civil and environmental engineering applications. Geotextiles are designed to retain fine soil particles while allowing water to pass through. In a typical drainage system, they would be laid along a trench which would then be filled with coarse granular material: gravel, sea shells, stone or rock. The geotextile is then folded over the top of the stone and the trench is then covered by soil. Groundwater seeps through the geotextile and flows through the stone to an outfell. In high groundwater conditions a perforated plastic (PVC or PE) pipe is laid along the base of the drain to increase the volume of water transported in the drain.

Alternatively, a prefabricated plastic drainage system made of HDPE, often incorporating geotextile, coco fiber or rag filters can be considered. The use of these materials has become increasingly more common due to their ease of use which eliminates the need for transporting and laying stone drainage aggregate which is invariably more expensive than a synthetic drain and concrete liners.

Over the past 30 years geotextile, PVC filters and HDPE filters have become the most commonly used soil filter media. They are cheap to produce and easy to lay, with factory controlled properties that ensure long term filtration performance even in fine silty soil conditions.

21st century alternatives

Seattle's Public Utilities created a pilot program called Street Edge Alternatives (SEA Streets) Project. The project focuses on designing a system "to provide drainage that more closely mimics the natural landscape prior to development than traditional piped systems". [3] The streets are characterized by ditches along the side of the roadway, with plantings designed throughout the area. An emphasis on non curbed sidewalks allows water to flow more freely into the areas of permeable surface on the side of the streets. Because of the plantings, the run off water from the urban area does not all directly go into the ground, but can also be absorbed into the surrounding environment. Monitoring conducted by Seattle Public Utilities reports a 99 percent reduction of storm water leaving the drainage project [3]

Drainage has undergone a large-scale environmental review in the recent past in the United Kingdom. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) are designed to encourage contractors to install drainage system that more closely mimic the natural flow of water in nature. Since 2010 local and neighbourhood planning in the UK is required by law to factor SUDS into any development projects that they are responsible for.

Slot drainage has proved the most breakthrough product of the last twenty years as a drainage option. As a channel drainage system it is designed to eliminate the need for further pipework systems to be installed in parallel to the drainage, reducing the environmental impact of production as well as improving water collection. Stainless steel, concrete channel, PVC and HDPE are all materials available for slot drainage which have become industry standards on construction projects.

Drainage in the construction industry

Piping being placed for a sink SinkPlumbing.jpg
Piping being placed for a sink

The civil engineer is responsible for drainage in construction projects. They set out from the plans all the roads, street gutters, drainage, culverts and sewers involved in construction operations. During the construction process he/she will set out all the necessary levels for each of the previously mentioned factors.

Civil engineers and construction managers work alongside architects and supervisors, planners, quantity surveyors, the general workforce, as well as subcontractors. Typically, most jurisdictions have some body of drainage law to govern to what degree a landowner can alter the drainage from his parcel.

Drainage options for the construction industry include:

The surface opening of channel drainage usually comes in the form of gratings (polymer, plastic, steel or iron) or a single slot (slot drain) that runs along the ground surface (typically manufactured from steel or iron).

Drainage in retaining walls

Earth retaining structures such as retaining walls also need to consider groundwater drainage. Typical retaining walls are constructed of impermeable material which can block the path of groundwater. When groundwater flow is obstructed, hydrostatic water pressure buildups against the wall and may cause significant damage. If the water pressure is not drained appropriately, retaining walls can bow, move, fracture and seams separate. The water pressure can also erode soil particles leading to voids behind the wall and sinkholes in the above soil. Traditional retaining wall drainage systems can include, French Drains, drain pipes or weep holes. To prevent soil erosion, Geotextile filter fabrics are installed with the drainage system.

Reasons for artificial drainage

An agricultural drainage channel outside Magome, Japan after a heavy rain. Note that protuberances create turbulent water, preventing sediment from settling in the channel. MagomeDrainage.jpg
An agricultural drainage channel outside Magome, Japan after a heavy rain. Note that protuberances create turbulent water, preventing sediment from settling in the channel.

Wetland soils may need drainage to be used for agriculture. In the northern United States and Europe, glaciation created numerous small lakes which gradually filled with humus to make marshes. Some of these were drained using open ditches and trenches to make mucklands, which are primarily used for high value crops such as vegetables.

The largest project of this type in the world has been in process for centuries in the Netherlands. The area between Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden was, in prehistoric times swampland and small lakes. Turf cutting (Peat mining), subsidence and shoreline erosion gradually caused the formation of one large lake, the Haarlemmermeer, or lake of Haarlem. The invention of wind-powered pumping engines in the 15th century permitted drainage of some of the marginal land, but the final drainage of the lake had to await the design of large, steam powered pumps and agreements between regional authorities. The elimination of the lake occurred between 1849 and 1852, creating thousands of km² of new land.

Coastal plains and river deltas may have seasonally or permanently high water tables and must have drainage improvements if they are to be used for agriculture. An example is the flatwoods citrus-growing region of Florida. After periods of high rainfall, drainage pumps are employed to prevent damage to the citrus groves from overly wet soils. Rice production requires complete control of water, as fields need to be flooded or drained at different stages of the crop cycle. The Netherlands has also led the way in this type of drainage, not only to drain lowland along the shore, but actually pushing back the sea until the original nation has been greatly enlarged.

In moist climates, soils may be adequate for cropping with the exception that they become waterlogged for brief periods each year, from snow melt or from heavy rains. Soils that are predominantly clay will pass water very slowly downward, meanwhile plant roots suffocate because the excessive water around the roots eliminates air movement through the soil.
Other soils may have an impervious layer of mineralized soil, called a hardpan or relatively impervious rock layers may underlie shallow soils. Drainage is especially important in tree fruit production. Soils that are otherwise excellent may be waterlogged for a week of the year, which is sufficient to kill fruit trees and cost the productivity of the land until replacements can be established. In each of these cases appropriate drainage carries off temporary flushes of water to prevent damage to annual or perennial crops.

Drier areas are often farmed by irrigation, and one would not consider drainage necessary. However, irrigation water always contains minerals and salts, which can be concentrated to toxic levels by evapotranspiration. Irrigated land may need periodic flushes with excessive irrigation water and drainage to control soil salinity.

A typical drain in Bankstown, New South Wales

See also

Related Research Articles

Irrigation artificial application of water to the land

Irrigation is the process of applying controlled amounts of water to plants at needed intervals. Irrigation helps to grow agricultural crops, maintain landscapes, and revegetate disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of less than average rainfall. Irrigation also has other uses in crop production, including frost protection, suppressing weed growth in grain fields and preventing soil consolidation. In contrast, agriculture that relies only on direct rainfall is referred to as rain-fed.

Aswan Dam dam in Aswan, Egypt

The Aswan Dam, or more specifically since the 1960s, the Aswan High Dam, is the world's largest embankment dam built across the Nile in Aswan, Egypt, between 1960 and 1970. Its significance largely eclipsed the previous Aswan Low Dam initially completed in 1902 downstream. Based on the success of the Low Dam, then at its maximum utilization, construction of the High Dam became a key objective of the government following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952; with its ability to better control flooding, provide increased water storage for irrigation and generate hydroelectricity the dam was seen as pivotal to Egypt's planned industrialization. Like the earlier implementation, the High Dam has had a significant effect on the economy and culture of Egypt.

Ditch small to moderate trench created to channel water

A ditch is a small to moderate divot created to channel water. A ditch can be used for drainage, to drain water from low-lying areas, alongside roadways or fields, or to channel water from a more distant source for plant irrigation. Ditches are commonly seen around farmland, especially in areas that have required drainage, such as The Fens in eastern England and much of the Netherlands.

Permeable paving roads built with water pervious materials to limit surface runoff

Permeable paving is a method of paving vehicle and pedestrian pathways to enable infiltration of stormwater runoff. Permeable pavement surfaces typically include pervious concrete, porous asphalt, paving stones and interlocking pavers. Unlike traditional impervious paving materials, permeable paving systems allow stormwater to percolate and infiltrate through the pavement and into the aggregate layers and/or soil below. In addition to reducing surface runoff, permeable paving systems can trap suspended solids, thereby filtering pollutants from stormwater. The goal is to control stormwater at the source, reduce runoff and improve water quality by filtering pollutants in the subsurface layers.

French drain Sub-surface drainage system

A French drain or weeping tile is a trench filled with gravel or rock or containing a perforated pipe that redirects surface water and groundwater away from an area.


Hardscape refers to hard landscape materials in the built environment structures that are incorporated into a landscape. This can include paved areas, driveways, retaining walls, sleeper walls, stairs, walkways, and any other landscaping made up of hard wearing materials such as wood, stone, and concrete, as opposed to softscape, the horticultural elements of a landscape.

Septic drain field A type of subsurface wastewater disposal facility

Septic drain fields, also called leach fields or leach drains, are subsurface wastewater disposal facilities used to remove contaminants and impurities from the liquid that emerges after anaerobic digestion in a septic tank. Organic materials in the liquid are catabolized by a microbial ecosystem.

Geotextile textile material used in ground stabilization and construction

Geotextiles are permeable fabrics which, when used in association with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect, or drain. Typically made from polypropylene or polyester, geotextile fabrics come in three basic forms: woven, needle punched, or heat bonded.

In agriculture, tile drainage is a type of drainage system that removes excess water from soil below its surface. Whereas irrigation is the practice of providing additional water to soil when it is naturally too dry, drainage reduces the moisture in soil and thereby increases the amount of air in its pores so as to augment conditions for optimal growth of crops. While surface water can be drained by pumping, open ditches, or both, tile drainage is often the most prudent practice for draining subsurface water.


The basic philosophy behind geocomposite materials is to combine the best features of different materials in such a way that specific applications are addressed in the optimal manner and at minimum cost. Thus, the benefit/cost ratio is maximized. Such geocomposites will generally be geosynthetic materials, but not always. In some cases it may be more advantageous to use a nonsynthetic material with a geosynthetic one for optimum performance and/or least cost. As seen in the following, the number of possibilities is huge — the only limits being one's ingenuity and imagination.

Landslide mitigation refers to several man-made activities on slopes with the goal of lessening the effect of landslides. Landslides can be triggered by many, sometimes concomitant causes. In addition to shallow erosion or reduction of shear strength caused by seasonal rainfall, landslides may be triggered by anthropic activities, such as adding excessive weight above the slope, digging at mid-slope or at the foot of the slope. Often, individual phenomenon join together to generate instability over time, which often does not allow a reconstruction of the evolution of a particular landslide. Therefore, landslide hazard mitigation measures are not generally classified according to the phenomenon that might cause a landslide. Instead, they are classified by the sort of slope stabilization method used:

Watertable control is the practice of controlling the height of the water table by drainage. Its main applications are in agricultural land and in cities to manage the extensive underground infrastructure that includes the foundations of large buildings, underground transit systems, and extensive utilities.

Soil salinity control

Soil salinity control relates to controlling the problem of soil salinity and reclaiming salinized agricultural land.

Well drainage means drainage of agricultural lands by wells. Agricultural land is drained by pumped wells to improve the soils by controlling water table levels and soil salinity.

SahysMod agricultural software

SahysMod is a computer program for the prediction of the salinity of soil moisture, groundwater and drainage water, the depth of the watertable, and the drain discharge in irrigated agricultural lands, using different hydrogeologic and aquifer conditions, varying water management options, including the use of ground water for irrigation, and several crop rotation schedules, whereby the spatial variations are accounted for through a network of polygons.

An agricultural drainage system is a system by which water is drained on or in the soil to enhance agricultural production of crops. It may involve any combination of stormwater control, erosion control, and watertable control.

Cellular confinement confinement system used in construction and geotechnical engineering

Cellular confinement systems (CCS)—also known as geocells—are widely used in construction for erosion control, soil stabilization on flat ground and steep slopes, channel protection, and structural reinforcement for load support and earth retention. Typical cellular confinement systems are geosynthetics made with ultrasonically welded high-density polyethylene (HDPE) strips or novel polymeric alloy (NPA)—and expanded on-site to form a honeycomb-like structure—and filled with sand, soil, rock, gravel or concrete.

Land drains

The purpose of a land drain is to allow water in wet or swampy ground to rapidly drain away or to relieve hydrostatic pressure. They are subterranean linear structures which are laid to a fall which should be as steep as practicable. They are used in agriculture and in building construction sites. Modern land drains take the form of a perforated or discontinuous pipe. Typically, the land drains conduct the surplus water to an open ditch or natural water source.

Environmental impact of irrigation

The environmental impacts of irrigation relate to the changes in quantity and quality of soil and water as a result of irrigation and the effects on natural and social conditions in river basins and downstream of an irrigation scheme. The impacts stem from the altered hydrological conditions caused by the installation and operation of the irrigation scheme.

Subsurface textile irrigation

Subsurface Textile Irrigation (SSTI) is a technology designed specifically for subsurface irrigation in all soil textures from desert sands to heavy clays. Use of SSTI will significantly reduce the usage of water, fertilizer and herbicide. It will lower on-going operational costs and, if maintained properly, will last for decades. By delivering water and nutrients directly to the root zone, plants are healthier and have a far greater yield.


  1. Arthur Coterell (1980). The Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilisations. Rainbird Publishers. pp. 176–178. ISBN   0-7112-0036-X.
  2. "Broadside eulogy dedicated to Patrick, Earl of Marchmount, Sir Hugh Dalrymple, and others". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  3. 1 2 Seattle: Natural Drainage Systems Archived June 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine