Drainage Tile History in the U.S.
In the Midwest and other humid areas, the purpose of drainage is to remove excess water and lower the water table. This creates a well-aerated environment for roots and soil organisms. Drainage allows earlier warming of soil in the spring, and earlier traffic on fields. Installation of drainage tiles can have a rapid and large return on the capital investment, by substantially improving productivity. Source: NRCS/ARS/University of Illinois.
Drainage has been part of U.S. agriculture since colonial times, but it expanded to a broad scale when Europeans settled the Midwest. At the time of settlement, large proportions of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri were swampland unsuited to normal cultivation. Large areas in northeastern Arkansas, the gulf plains of Texas, and delta areas of Mississippi and Louisiana were also originally swamp and overflow areas. Source: NRCS/ARS/University of Illinois.
Most of the drainage of the Midwestern wetlands occurred in the early 1900's in response to federal and local government support for drainage districts and improvements in drainage technology. Despite the Depression, the federal government provided financial assistance in the 1920's and 1930's to maintain and expand drainage systems. Source: NRCS/ARS/University of Illinois.
Financial assistance for tiling was stopped by the 1970's , and new tiling systems dropped dramatically in response to wetland conservation programs in the 1980's.
New systems have increased in the last few years in response to very wet growing seasons in the midwest in 2009-11, and high crop prices. These systems are add-ons to existing drainage systems, or in fields that are not subject to wetland provisions.
Tiling has continued to be done, and with the increase in crop and land prices in the last few years, along with several wet years that slowed planting and harvest, more tiling is being done.
Much of the Upper Midwest has undergone tile drainage. In Illinois, over 10 million acres have been tiled. The following picture shows areas in Illinois where soils are suitable for tiling.
Illinois has 35% of it's cropland tiled. Indiana has 50%, as does Ohio. Iowa only has 25%. Source: P.K. Kalita, R.A.C. Cooke, et. al. Subsurface Drainage and Water Quality: The Illinois Experience. Transactions of the ASABE. Vo. 50(5): 1651-1656.