indiana Prairie Farmer Logo

This landowner devised a unique way to filter water leaving his farmland.

Tom J. Bechman, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

March 28, 2024

3 Min Read
 An aerial view of a small body of water near a railroad track
WETLAND AT WORK: The small but powerful wetland nestled next to railroad tracks on Dave Fischer’s farm near St. Anthony, Ind., filters water from a very large pond on his farm. Photos by Dave Fischer

Using wetlands to filter out sediment, nutrients and other materials from water is not a new idea. Natural wetlands have performed this function for centuries. In Indiana, two Kosciusko County dairy farmers constructed an artificial wetland over three decades ago to help remove solids and purify water coming from the dairy.

Sources indicate it isn’t a foolproof method. Some nutrients, especially nitrogen, can be harder to filter out in a wetland environment. However, a few years ago, Dave Fischer, Dubois County, Ind., figured a wetland would do a good job of filtering the water leaving his rolling livestock farm. He wasn’t expecting it to directly filter concentrated wastewater, such as from a confinement operation. Instead, his goal was to remove sediment and nutrients from any surface water leaving his farm.

“We have 700 continuous acres, with most of it devoted to growing forages for our cattle,” he explains. “We focus on annual ryegrass as a cover crop, grazing it and then chopping it as haylage. It supplements corn silage, which we also chop.

“There is a big shift in elevation from one end of our farm to the other. Over time, we’ve constructed seven ponds to help control runoff and water flow. Only one of them serves as a source of drinking water for our beef cattle.”

The biggest pond, covering more than 2 acres, sits near the lowest elevation of the farm. Water coming down the watershed winds up in this pond.

Cleaner water

Several years ago, Fischer decided to create a wetland on the lower side of the biggest pond, situated between the driveway to the farm and a railroad track that borders a highway. He constructed it himself, without cost-share funding.

“We did rely on technical advice from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and local soil and water conservation district personnel,” he says. “Their advice was very helpful as we designed and implemented it.”

A pond with a colorful treeline in the background

How does water get from the pond into the wetland? Fischer installed a 4-inch-diameter tile under the driveway, connecting the pond on one side and the wetland on the other. When water builds up in the pond to a sufficient level, it overflows through the tile into the wetland.

Once in the wetland, natural processes within the ecosystem go to work, he says. As water moves slowly through the wetland, sediment and nutrients filter out. They tend to be left behind in the soils underneath the wetland.

“The goal is for water that eventually moves out of the wetland and off our land to be as clean as possible,” he says. Under normal conditions, there is not a large amount of water at any one time leaving the wetland.

“What does leave should be relatively clean — especially free of sediment,” Fischer says. Sediment is a major contaminant in creeks, ditches and other waterways.

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like