Sunday, 29 November 2015

Sediments of the Anthropocene

In my workplace I have recently had some fun improving my knowledge and application of erosion and sediment control methods. It reminds me that sometimes a little knowledge and the best intentions can actually lead to wasted time or even worse outcomes. I’d like to use this post to look at what erosion and sediment control means for sites that are to be disturbed. This is because of a construction site I visited in my town a couple of weeks ago that made me laugh (I had to see the funny side otherwise I’d always be crying!)

Is this working?
The first point to know is that erosion and sediment control is two things (erosion and… sediment control). They are not one and the same thing. In fact the most important part is the erosion control bit. If you have erosion control you don’t need sediment controls. This lack of distinction I think causes the biggest waste of resources.

Have a look at the picture here. This is a classic example of a waste of time. It is something that was never going to be the solution and inevitably failed and wasn’t even looked after anyway. In this example a small slope was disturbed. This small slope had water running on to it from a grass slope. The people responsible thought “hey, treatment: sediment fence!”… But thought nothing about fixing the problem in the first place. A better solution would have been to do one or a combination of erosion control measures. These could have included:

  • Diverting clean storm water around the exposed slope with a mulch bund or similar (many trees were chipped and removed from the area).
  • Spraying the surface with a synthetic soil stabiliser.
  • Spraying the surface with a hydro mulch or similar with grass seed.
  • Covering with a synthetic or biodegradable mesh framework which was then seeded

Is this working?
None of these things would cost much more in time or money than installing and re-installing failed silt fences. And they would have actually fixed the problem in the first place. Just to add a little icing to the cake here is another control measure that was located about 20 metres away. The good old sandbag near a stormwater inlet. At the best of times this can only be considered a supplementary technique that should never be used in isolation. In this case the sandbag has ruptured and the sand appears to have actually gone into the storm water system itself! The small amount of sediment retained seems to only be effective because of weeds growing in the gutter. No thought again, and no checking to make sure things work and no fixing of failed problems for an obviously long time.

Erosion control should always be the first focus and even when using sediment controls consideration needs to be given to whether they will even be effective. For example “silt fences” are actually not good at holding back silt. They only hold back sand! They should be called “sand fences”. Clays, silts and any dispersive soils will pass straight through a silt fence. It is important that people in the know to undertake erosion and sediment control works. This is important were ever significant disturbance is to occur or where sediment may easily enter waterways or other sensitive receptors.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, Rod. It is obvious even to a non-scientist like me that what was done at both those sites wouldn't have worked!
    Too many people jump in with a 'solution' before they have even worked out what the problem was.
    On our sloping block, I use mulch bunds a lot, and they are very effective!