Routing Runoff

“Most of those fields then were built in the [19]60s and [19]70s before fields were constructed with proper drainage systems,” Cucia remarks.

He notes that new parks and rec fields have been engineered and built with drainage in mind, including proper crowning, grading, and piping to carry water away.  The high school field now has artificial turf, installed with an underground drainage system.

Cucia concedes, however, that there is still work to be done, improvements still to be made.  “We have developed grants and other capital-improvement funding to continuously make improvements when we can,” he says.

Seeking A Solution

Drainage problems at sports fields and in parks can be avoided if planning and budgeting of construction includes proper handling of water in normal to heavy rain or snow melt.  It is obviously much easier, more effective, and less expensive to plan for these solutions rather than having to retrofit them after the fact.

There are basically two solutions for handling water:

  1. Run the water off the ground’s surface, directing it around areas such as fields or parks.
  2. Pipe the water underground to proper cleaning, collection, and distribution areas.

Surface solutions are generally the least expensive and involve proper engineering and use of strategically placed bioswales, which are grassed, mulched, or rocked troughs that, if properly designed, constructed, and maintained, will gently direct water where it needs to go while filtering out pollutants before releasing it back to the watershed.

Oftentimes, though, surface solutions aren’t always feasible due to lack of space or other limiting factors; this is when underground solutions are needed. There are many products on the market that help direct water around or under fields or facilities.

The city of CarmelClay, Ind., used a combination of these methods to deal with drainage issues in Central Park last May. The three projects involved parking lots—one was a new build, and two others required improvements.

One project, engineered and constructed with proper surface and underground drainage, replaced a temporary gravel overflow parking area with 144 parking spaces. The other two projects involved previously asphalted lots that collected water in low areas.  According to parks director Mark Westermeier, the water collection was annoying in summer, but potentially dangerous in winter.

“The lots were constructed about 7 years ago, and the problems started out to be minor but got worse over time to a point where we had to do something about them,” says Westermeier.

The solution then was relatively easy: trench the two existing parking lots and add trench drains. These formed troughs were sunk into the ground and covered with heavy plastic grills that collected water and channeled it to bioswales.

Whether drainage issues are minor or major, finding a solution is rarely a simple matter.  Some parks departments have in-house resources, but many times local resources aren’t equipped to handle the problem.  Calling in outside help can be the answer.

Westermeier notes that the solutions were well thought-out.  “We bid out the design and engineering to ensure that proper hydrology studies were done and that the solutions were going to work.”

And that is the bottom line: whether cheap and simple or expensive and complex, fixing a drainage problem is the goal. If the water is handled properly, the game field will be ready to go.

Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration, and now lives in Beaufort, S.C. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email

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Related posts:

  1. Dirty Work
  2. Bounce Back
  3. Seeping With Success
  4. When Maintenance Gets Rough
  5. Field Maintenance

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