Water Management from High Tunnel Runoff for Improved Conservation Practices

Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension
Iowa State University

Title of Success Story

Water Management from High Tunnel Runoff for Improved Conservation Practices

Public Value (now or future)
(Impact:  Who benefits beyond participants and how?  What conditions changed?)

As more fruit and vegetable growers add high tunnels to their production systems, issues arise in the management and maintenance of the high tunnel and its environmental impact. Improved rainwater management will increase high tunnel productivity and profitability.

(Why is it important to address this issue with education?  What are the desired changes?)

The NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) EQIP Cost-sharing program (Conservation Practice Standard CODE 798 Seasonal High Tunnel System for Crops) has contracted for 178 new high tunnels in 2010 and 2011. These growers and others are looking for information to improve production, profitability and sustainability by incorporating high tunnels in their production systems. New tools often result in unique problems and issues, such as water drainage around the high tunnel. A rainwater catchment system and irrigation system was designed to prevent saturated soils along the sides of the high tunnel and potential erosion caused by the hundreds of gallons of water that is shed from the tunnel with measurable rainfall events. It also reduces the need to permanently alter the soil environment for proper drainage and water diversion. The captured rainwater provides a supplemental water source for crops in the high tunnel.   

(Outputs: activities, numbers reached, publications, products)

Capacity building through Smith-lever funds enabled us to gather additional support to develop a prototype for rainwater catchment and irrigation use. The system was designed and installed on a high tunnel at the Armstrong Research and Demonstration Farm. Two field days were held to show and describe the system with a total of 92 participants. The system was described at a session at the 2012 Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ conference  and during 3 high tunnel workshops attended by a total of 64 people. An extension publication, pm-3017, “Rainwater Catchment from a High Tunnel for Irrigation Use”, was written and is available to download at the Extension Online store. Over 500 people viewed posters describing the project at the Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference and Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association Conference. The publication is being shared with high tunnel producers by NRCS staff throughout the state. The publication was sent electronically to 115 growers who attended previous high tunnel trainings.

RESULTS (Outcomes:  specific changes that occurred in Learning, Actions, Conditions; how outcomes were measured)

Several growers have indicated an interest in adapting this system on their high tunnels to solve drainage problems. The catchment system is being reviewed by the State and/or Regional NRSC staff for consideration as an environmental initiative that could provide funding assistance to high tunnel growers who want to adapt this practice.

Desired Changes

High tunnel growers will:

  • understand the importance of adequate drainage around a high tunnel
  • adapt the system to their high tunnels to better manage and utilize rain water runoff

Extension Lead(s)
(name, position, counties served, contact information)

Linda Naeve, Extension Program Specialist – Value Added Agriculture Program
1111 NSRIC, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011
Shawn Shouse, Extension Agricultural Engineer
53020 Hitchcock Avenue
Lewis, IA 51544-4058

Your Position

Field Special – Regions 12, 13, 17, 18

POW # and Team

­­­­ 130 Horticulture: Commercial and Consumer

ANR Priority (select all that apply)

­­­­­­­­Regional Food Systems­­­­­
Natural Resources and Environmental Stewardship

Knowledge Areas: (USDA categories)


Continuing Story

Yes – Introduction to High Tunnels Training for Educators

Major Partners or Collaborators

Leopold Center For Sustainable Agriculture, Practical Farmers of Iowa, ISU Armstrong Research and Demonstration Farm, ISU Extension Value Added Agriculture Program, NRCS

Where story took place
(Region, campus, multi-regional)

Campus, Multi-regional

Fiscal Year


Multi-state or Integrated (Ext + Research)


Funding Source

Leopold Center For Sustainable Agriculture


High tunnels, commercial fruit and vegetable production

Page last updated: March 19, 2012
Page maintained by Julie Honeick, jhoneick@iastate.edu