Some drainage ditches in the intensively managed row-crop agricultural region of southern Minnesota evolved from a trapezoidal form to multi-staged channel forms similar to natural streams. Older ditches constructed in cohesive sediment of the Des Moines Lobe till tend to follow a channel evolution model developed by Simon and Hupp. Site cross sections, longitudinal water and bed profiles and bed material particle size were determined according to Harrelson and others at 24 older ditch reaches, 5 newly constructed ditch reaches and 13 natural stream reaches. Morphological features were hypothesized to change from trapezoidal form to flat bench banks, similar to benches found in natural stream channels. All data were statistically analyzed with respect to drainage area using regression, because channel form is directly related to drainage area for a given climate, geology and land use. Results show similar regression slope and intercept for bankfull channel width and bankfull cross-sectional area (CSA) of older ditches and natural streams compared to typical trapezoidal designed ditches. Evolved ditches developed a small floodplain bench above the ditch bed and adjusted their bankfull widths similar to natural stream channels with respect to drainage area. Old ditches showed a relatively strong R2 (0.82, 0.68) for channel CSA and width, a weaker R2 (0.45) for water surface slope, and little to no correlation with bed particle size. Channel form appears to have adjusted more quickly than bed facets and/ or bed particle size distribution. However, stepwise regression determined that D84, width/depth ratio and mean bankfull depth explained 83 % of the variability of channel features across varying drainage areas. Findings suggest a possible reduction of long-term maintenance costs if older ditches are allowed to evolve over time. A stable ditch form similar to natural streams is typically self-sustaining, suggesting that prior to a scheduled clean-out, the ditch should be examined for hydraulic capacity, sediment transport and bank stability.
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Environmental Earth Sciences