Sometimes the old ways work best.

As far back as the 1700s, rice planters around Savannah, Ga., were using devices known as rice field trunks to control tidal flooding on their fields. Remnants of these original structures can still be seen at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.

But even after 300 years of vast technological improvements in other areas, the simple, wooden structures are still the most reliable way to control water in the Low Country of Georgia and South Carolina. Modern versions are still in use today at the Savannah NWR.

Although they wear very well, the trunks, which are usually about 38 feet long and have movable slats to govern the flow of water, need replacing after years of service. So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will use $97,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, popularly known as stimulus funds, to buy and install a new rice field trunk at the refuge.

“They’re expensive to build and install, but they last much longer than normal water control structures,” said Jane Griess, project leader at the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex, which includes the refuge. “In this marine salt water environment, metal structures [which are used to control water flow at most wildlife refuges] don’t hold up as well as wooden ones.”

The refuge has 6,000 acres of impoundments for migratory waterfowl and other native wildlife, and manages water flow on 3,000 of those acres. In the winter, the impoundments are flooded to support wintering waterfowl, while during the summer months, the wetlands are managed to grow plants which are flooded in the fall in anticipation of the ducks’ arrival.

Phil Kloer is a public affairs specialist for the Southeastern region of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

300-year-old technology good enough for Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
Simple wooden structures called rice field trunks do a better job of controlling tidal flooding in Low Country rice fields than more modern technology.