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Help Control Erosion in Yard
April 24, 2014
Photo by Mark Tancig, Leon County Public Works (or) Mark Tancig, Leon County Government
By Mark Tancig
Did you know that soil can be a pollutant of Leon County’s water resources? In excessive amounts, soil, and the substances that may be attached to it, can pollute local waterways and cause other issues such as increased flooding and maintenance costs for local governments. By controlling erosion in your lawn and garden, you can do your part to help keep local waterways clean and Leon County Government has several ways to help. Leon County staff can assist you with troublesome erosion areas or issues caused by land use changes on adjacent property, but let’s talk about erosion first.
Erosion is a natural process where wind and/or water move soil to a new location. This soil is deposited in areas where the flow of wind and/or water can no longer suspend the soil. This process can be seen in your yard where a valley or trough is created by fast moving water and a pile of soil is found at a flat spot downhill. As the water slows, the soil falls out and is deposited. This deposited soil is often considered sediment.
So how does this natural process contribute to poor water quality? The problem is excessive erosion caused by changes in land cover, such as removal of vegetation and changes in the slope of the land, and high rates of stormwater flow. When excessive erosion occurs, the sediment may cause habitat smothering and turbidity, which affects the living organisms in the receiving waterbody. Sediment also acts as a magnet, and other substances – nutrients, heavy metals, and other compounds – cling to it and end up in the receiving waterbody. For these reasons, Leon County has procedures in place to minimize disturbances to the natural cover of the land and to require measures that reduce erosion and capture sediment, including silt fences at construction sites and stormwater ponds.
In our own yards, erosion is typically caused by poor vegetation along slopes and increased stormwater flow. To help minimize erosion in your yard, the following practices are recommended:
Stabilize slopes with a healthy stand of vegetation. Plants are the Earth’s natural soil stabilizers. Roots help hold the soil in place while the aboveground leaves and stems help soften the blow from each individual rain drop (think of how during a light rain, if you stand under a live oak you can stay dry). In sunny areas, sod can be laid to quickly stabilize an eroded area. When laying sod on a slope, lay it along the contour and stagger the joints. For steep slopes, use sod staples to anchor it down well. In shadier spots, trees and shrubs can be used along with mulch. The Leon County Extension Office can offer advice on which plants may be best.
Use mulch. Mulch also helps soften the blow from raindrops and slows the water down as it flows over land. Mulch can be used around planted areas and mulch berms can be used to create mini terraces to help control the direction and flow of runoff. Leon County provides free mulch to citizens at Apalachee Regional Park.
Minimize impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces are surfaces that do not allow water to seep through them – asphalt and concrete driveways, concrete slabs, and buildings. These surfaces speed up the flow of runoff, causing more erosion. Many folks have begun using paver blocks for new driveways which allow grass to grow through the empty spaces. Large stone gravel is another alternative that will allow most of the rainwater to percolate through.
Use gutters or rain barrels. Often times the water coming off of your roof can cause quite a bit of erosion around your house. Gutters can help direct the water to an area that is less likely to erode and rain barrels are able to capture most small rain events for future use. Using mulch or gravel along the foundation of the house can help reduce erosion and minimize the splash back onto your clean siding.
Install a rain garden. Rain gardens are small, planted depressions that help minimize erosion by capturing and slowing water down as it makes its way downhill. Plants suited to having periods of wet followed by dry can be installed and create a nice landscaped amenity.
If the above practices aren’t enough to solve your erosion problems, several companies can provide assistance in installing terraces, french drains, and other large improvements.
So next time it rains, look out the window and check how muddy the water is leaving your yard. If it looks like mud, inspect for eroded areas and try some of the above practices to help keep the soil in its place.
Mark Tancig is a Water Resource Specialist for Leon County Public Works and Community Development. For more information, visit www.LeonCountyFL.gov/PubWorks or call (850) 606-1500. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov