Check your dugouts this fall


Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Producers should inspect farmyard dugouts regularly to ensure they remain viable water sources.

‘The fall inspection should start with a check of the area that feeds into the dugout,’ says Dan Benson, water specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

‘Make sure this area is free of debris that might flow into your dugout. This area should be mowed and kept clear of trees and weeds. A properly graded, mowed grassed waterway is an excellent best management practice that can reduce turbidity and nutrient-rich water from entering your dugout. Not only will it improve your water quality, it will extend the life of your dugout.’

He says that a well maintained dugout perimeter allows for greater access to regularly visually inspect the dugout itself. It might also deter native animals, such as muskrats, from feeling at home in the dugout.

Tree growth should be also be discouraged near the dugout as leaves falling off deciduous trees will add nutrients to the dugout, and that will contribute to poor water quality. Deciduous trees should be kept back 165 ft, or 50 m, and conifers should be no closer than 65 ft, or 20 m.

If the dugout has an inlet structure such as a gated culvert, Benson says that it should be inspected to confirm that it operates correctly.

‘If you don’t have a method of controlling the flow of water into your dugout, you might want to consider adding this feature. The ability to choose what water enters your dugout is an important management tool that will improve your water quality and the lifespan of your dugout.’

He adds that during the 2020 growing season, many areas of Alberta received higher than normal rainfall events.

‘Because of that, many dugouts that did not have the ability to prevent nutrient rich inflow during these events have had deterioration in water quality. Nutrient rich water is a major factor in algae and cyanobacteria blooms.’

He suggests these next steps:

  • Inspect the aeration system. It introduces oxygen into the water and enhances the natural biological activity in the dugout.
  • Confirm that the pump is working, and remove the aeration line by pulling it to shore.
  • Once on shore, check the soundness of the line and the check-valve.
  • Inspect the diffuser to make sure that it is working correctly. If not, clean it or replace it. Install a diffuser if one is not being used.
  • Check that the diffuser is located on – or near – the bottom of the dugout.

Research has shown that year-round continuous aeration with a diffuser located on the bottom of the dugout provides the best water quality.

Benson says that the fall is also a good time to inspect the operating system.

‘If you use a floating intake, it should be inspected and cleaned. It is best done by pulling your floating intake to shore. Your intake should be lowered to about 4 to 5 ft, or 1.25 to 1.5 m, below the water surface. In most situations, it gives sufficient depth to provide water after the float freezes in the ice. You should also ensure that the intake line is weighted correctly, so it stays below the ice during winter.’

He says to remember that during winter, dugout aeration systems can result in open or weak areas in the dugout ice.

‘These conditions can be very dangerous for young children, pets and people snowmobiling at night. It is essential to educate your children about these hazards and post the area with highly visible warning signs and a fluorescent snow fence around the open water area. For greater safety, it is best if farmyard dugouts are fenced to avoid unauthorized access.’


Connect with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre to speak to an agricultural water specialist:

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)


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