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Controlling Soil Erosion and Sediment During Construction

Why Should We Be Concerned?

Erosion removes topsoil, reduces levels of soil organic matter, and contributes to the breakdown of soil structure. This creates a less favorable environment for plant growth. In soils that have restrictions to root growth, erosion decreases rooting depth, which decreases the amount of water, air, and nutrients available to plants. Erosion removes surface soil, which often has the highest biological activity and greatest amount of soil organic matter. This causes a loss in nutrients and often creates a less favorable environment for plant growth. Nutrients removed by erosion are no longer available to support plant growth onsite, but can accumulate in water where such problems as algal blooms and lake eutrophication may occur. Deposition of eroded materials can obstruct roadways and fill drainage channels. Sediment can damage fish habitat and degrade water quality in streams, lakes, and ponds. Soil erosion can be avoided by maintaining a protective cover on the soil, and creating a barrier to the erosive agent (i.e., wind and water)

Erosion Control vs. Sediment Control

There is a difference between practices that prevent or reduce erosion and those that remove soil (or sediment) from stormwater. Erosion control practices hold soil in place and reduce soil removal by storm water. The most effective way to control erosion is to preserve existing vegetation and replant cleared or bare areas as soon as possible. Sediment control practices remove eroded soil from runoff before it leaves the property. These practices are NOT as effective as erosion control because they do not remove all clay particles. For example, clay particles pass through silt fence material and take a very long time to settle out of runoff in holding ponds. (University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service). Many of the soils in the San Juan Islands contain a percentage of clay. It is much easier and more cost-effective to keep the soil in place than it is to attempt to remove soil from stormwater.

Effective Sediment and Erosion Control Practices Include:

Minimize clearing: use site fingerprinting, buffers/setbacks, construction phasing*. Prevent off-site runoff from flowing across bare soils: use perimeter dikes/swales, diversions. Stabilize bare soils on the site: use erosion control mats, seeding / planting* Remove sediment from runoff before it leaves the site: use stabilized construction entrances/exits, silt fences, sediment traps, check dams*. Plan soil disturbance activities for the dry season.

Preserving existing vegetation and re-planting cleared/bare soils as soon as possible after earth change is the most effective way to control erosion.

Plant cover reduces erosion potential by:

Protecting the soil surface from the impact of falling rain drops (reducing erosion); Slowing runoff velocity (or speed) and allowing sediment to settle out (reducing off-site sediment loss); Physically holding the soil in place with plant roots (erosion control); and Increasing infiltration (or seepage) rates by improving the soils structure and porosity.

Temporary Erosion Control Practices:

Using Mulches at Construction Sites
Mulching provides immediate temporary soil stabilization, protects soil surface from raindrop impact, prevents soil compaction and decreases runoff. Mulching also fosters establishment of temporary and permanent vegetative cover.
Mulch Material Application Rates Things to Consider

Straw 2 3 thick 5 bales/1000 sf or 2-3 tons/acres

Crimp straw to avoid wind blow. Crimping involves punching the straw into the soil with a dull shovel. Thickness may be reduced when used with seeding. Apply with hydromulcher. Do not use without seed and tackifier unless the application rate is at least doubled. In general, not for use on slopes greater than 10% Not recommended within 200 feet of surface waters. Inclusion of weed plants or seeds should be monitored and prevented or minimized


25-30 lbs/ 100 0 sf or 1500-2000 lbs/acre

Chipped Site Vegetation 2 minimum thickness

Wood-based 2 thickness (Hog Fuel) 100 tons/acre

Should be used in conjunction with other best management practices. Intended as a temporary measure for soil stabilization and/or while temporary or permanent vegetative cover is established.

Maintenance Requirements:
Inspect mulched areas within 24 hours after each rainfall or periods of heavy winds or daily during periods of prolonged rainfall. Additional mulching material should be applied immediately when thickness of the cover has been reduced and/or erosion occurs. Continue inspections until vegetative cover has been established.

Installing and Using Silt Fences

Filter fabric that is buried at the bottom, stretched, and supported by posts is one best management practice (BMP) that may be used to reduce transport of coarse sediment and to reduce runoff velocity of overland flows.

Requires specific standards for effective use (i.e. barriers are defined by slope gradient and areas being drained). Not for use in streams or vshaped ditches.

Maintenance Requirements:
Inspect fences regularly for signs of damage or deterioration and repair immediately. Remove sediment before it reaches 6 inches in height.

Questions About Stormwater BMPS?

The San Juan County Public Works Department can answer questions about stormwater management planning. The Countys stormwater management requirements are based on the stormwater guidelines detailed in the 1995 Stormwater Management Manual for Western Washington (Washington State Dept. of Ecology, Publication Numbers 05-10-029 through 05-10-033). If you are planning to build a home and would like assistance in understanding the stormwater management requirements and/or would like to learn about the natural resources on your property, the SJ Conservation District (SJCD).

*For more information about any of the practices mentioned above or to learn about additional methods for controlling soil erosion and sediment, refer to the 2005 Stormwater Management Manual for Western Washington, available at:

Published by the San Juan County Conservation District. This article was written by Lori Larkin. Please feel free to contact Steve Hussey at the district at 378 6621 for more information, or email him at