As Iowa’s 3,000 drainage districts age to a century or more, it’s time for landowners in those districts to consider updating drainage systems.

Dean Lemke, agricultural engineer for Lemke Engineering and Environmental Services LLC, told members at the Iowa Farm Bureau Fed­­eration’s (IFBF) 95th an­­nual meeting last week in Des Moines that 100 years ago, Iowa farmers spent more money in user fees to build the 3,000 drainage districts of Iowa than the entire United States spent to build the Panama Canal. That money, he said, was not tax related; it was paid through user fees.

"Drainage districts are 100 years old, and they’re going to have to be replaced," he said. "That’s what lies ahead."

The creation of drainage districts usually begins with a group of landowners who are interested in draining their land, said John Torbert, executive director of the Iowa Drainage District Association.

After the group writes a proposal and hires an engineer to determine the necessity and costs of a...