Wringing Out The Water

This may result in back-to-back scheduling that covers not only weekdays but weekends, evenings or other times, and in turn makes it difficult–if not impossible–to set aside fields.

Drainage Principles

Want good drainage? Start by ensuring that any water on the field comes from either rainwater or planned irrigation. In other words, water shouldn’t be traveling onto the field after dripping off the roof of a storage shed or dugout, running down a nearby hill, etc.

Proper drainage around and under such areas will help lessen the potential of excess flooding from other sources.

Slope And Crown Requirements

Each field has a specific slope and crown requirement. These two elements of design and construction are essential to moving water off the surface and toward the sides of the field, where drainage mechanisms can take care of the water.

One area out of tolerance can make the field muddy, or at least soft, and prevent it from playing well. In general, water should be moved off the field by directing it the shortest possible distance.

Different governing bodies, such as the NCAA or the NFHS, will require varying degrees of slope for each sport. Since rules can and do change from year to year, be sure you are working with the most current version of the rules for the correct governing body prior to embarking on any grading work.

Drainage Techniques

Drainage is a field’s best friend; however, because it’s invisible to the untrained eye, it’s the one item many owners forego in place of a flashier improvement (better stands, electronic scoreboard, etc.). The long-term success of the field, as well as its day-to-day usefulness, is tied to its ability to drain water.

A subsurface drainage system (so called because it manages the water that makes its way underground) can help fields dry more quickly. Many factors must be considered in determining the correct drainage system, including (but not limited to) soil type, local precipitation, field use, budget, existing slope, and local regulations. Work with a design professional to choose the right type, with the correct specifications for the amount of water you want to move.

The traditional type of drainage system for a sports field has been the pipe drain, which uses perforated pipe placed in trenches in the subgrade, which is then surrounded by coarse sand or clean stone to within 4 inches of the surface of the subgrade and capped with sand. Water then drains through the rootzone and stops in the trench, where it enters the pipe from the bottom. Drains are typically placed 3 to 10 feet apart for native soil, and 10 to 30 feet apart for sand-based fields. They are surrounded by clean stone or coarse sand.

Another type of system includes flat drains, sometimes called strip drains, 6 to 18 inches wide and 1 to 2 inches thick, without a wrapping of filter fabric, and placed horizontally on the subgrade during construction. They also may be trenched in and placed vertically after installation of the rootzone, in either native or sand-cap fields.

Builders note that the sand-vein system, sometimes called a sand-silt system, is the least expensive (and still highly effective). This system works particularly well in a native-soil field, often lasting for years without problems.

Keeping It Up

Mowing, irrigating, fertilizing, and weeding. Everyone knows these basics, but few seem to add preventive maintenance into the mix. And these days, with shrinking budgets, maintenance is often the first item to go. This can be a real problem, particularly in rec and parks installations, which generally cannot pay the amount needed for the maintenance that would normally be required of heavily used fields.

Ultimately, regular upkeep is the one action that can keep a field on track, and help avoid large expenditures down the line. Ideally, maintenance should include fertilization, weed control, aeration, and topdressing, and, of course, the elusive rest periods needed to help the field recover from heavy use.

Do a regular walk-through of the field. Check for signs of weeds or pests, and take action quickly while any problem is still relatively minor. Check all aspects of the drainage system to make sure it isn’t degrading over time. Head to the fields during or after a rain and check whether water is moving off the fields or standing on them. A field builder can help you check the sand- and silt-style drains and find whether they need an upgrade.

Drain lines and inlets should be inspected and cleaned as well. If a track encircles the field, check the adjacent drains routinely to be sure they have not become covered or clogged–something else that contributes to water ponding on both the field and the track.

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