Check your dugouts this fall

  From the October 15, 2018 issue of Agri-News
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 To ensure farmyard dugouts remain viable water sources, producers should inspect them regularly. Dan Benson, water specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) explains why it should be done before winter sets in and what to inspect.

The fall inspection should start with a check of the area that feeds into the dugout, says Benson. “Make sure that 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’ll extend the life of your dugout.”

Benson recommends keeping the area around a dugout mowed and free of weeds. “A well maintained dugout perimeter gives you greater access so that you can regularly visually inspect the dugout itself. It might also deter native animals, such as muskrats, from feeling at home in your dugout. Tree growth should be also be discouraged near dugouts.

Leaves falling off of deciduous trees will add nutrients to your dugout that’ll contribute to poor water quality. Deciduous trees should be kept back 165 feet, or 50 metres, and conifers should be no closer than 65 ft., or 20 metres.”

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.”

Next step is to inspect the aeration system. “Aeration systems are used to introduce oxygen into the water to enhance the natural biological activity in the dugout. You should confirm that the pump is working. You should also remove your aeration line by pulling it to shore. Once on shore, check the soundness of the line and the check-valve. At this time, you should also inspect the diffuser to make sure that it’s working correctly. If not, clean it or replace it. If you don’t have a diffuser, you should install one. Also, 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 adds 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. If possible, this is best done by pulling your floating intake to shore. Your intake should be lowered, so it is about 4 to 5 ft., or 1.25 to 1.5 metres, below the water surface. In most situations, this’ll give 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.

“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’s 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’s best if farmyard dugouts are fenced to avoid unauthorized access.”

For more information on dugouts, see AF’s Quality Farm Dugouts publication or call the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276) to speak to an agricultural water specialist. For information on funding for construction of dugouts or other farm water supply projects, producers can visit

Alberta Ag-Info Centre
310-FARM (3276)

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Government of Canada. The Government of Canada and its directors, agents, employees, or contractors will not be liable for any claims, damages, or losses of any kind whatsoever arising out of the use of, or reliance upon, this information.

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Dan Benson.
This document is maintained by Christine Chomiak.
This information published to the web on October 1, 2018.