NEWS | Aug. 7, 2013

Dirt ... soil ... sand ... mud

By Earle Folger 628th Civil Engineer Squadron

Controlling soil is one aspect of being an environmental engineer at Joint Base Charleston. Soil is quite an interesting medium. Get it wet, and it becomes mud. Grind it, and it becomes dust (when very dry). Put it in your shoes, and it becomes the black stuff between your toes. Put too much of it in one place, and it becomes a landslide.

Soil can be problematic. Mix a rain storm with a construction site, and mud becomes another aspect of the job site to manage. Poorly managed mud on a job site is not uncommon. Storm water runoff can carry mud from where it is supposed to be, to places where it can cause environmental problems.

Federal, State, and local regulations have been passed to prevent erosion. These regulations can also apply to general activity; not just to construction sites.

Black fabric fences and hay bales around construction sites are used not only to tell people where the edge of the construction site is, but to prevent soil erosion from washing soil into areas were erosion could be harmful to people and to animals. Black fabric fencing is just one way to minimize erosion.

When soil washes into nearby streams, the water can be so choked with soil particles that aquatic wildlife is harmed. In extreme cases, fish gills can be abraded to the point that they bleed. Bottom dwelling animals can be buried. Vegetation can be killed either by being covered, or by soil washing away from their roots.

Why do new shopping centers take the time to install a pond on their property? Those ponds are actually storm water detention systems. When a large parking area or building is constructed, rainwater doesn't have the same amount of area to seep into the ground and can cause flooding or unwanted runoff. Installing detention ponds provides a place to collect water runoff so it can be released at a controlled rate. This prevents downstream flooding of neighbors. It also helps control storm water pollution from debris washing out of the parking lot such as paper cups, napkins and straws. Detention ponds trap this debris and prevent it from washing off the property. Periodically, the land owner has to clean out those ponds from all the items washed off the parking lot. If you drop something in a parking lot, be sure and pick it up and place it in a garbage can.

When natural ground cover is disturbed as part of a construction job, it's important to contact the Environmental Office to see if a land disturbance permit is needed. This may be required from the State depending on how close this disturbance is to a natural stream, or how much land cover is being disturbed. As such, certain requirements are likely to be required to prevent erosion or to control what happens when erosion does occur.

While small ground disturbance projects may be exempt from the need to obtain a storm water permit, this does not mean erosion will not be a problem. Planting food plots, installing a flower bed or routinely parking in a grassy field may result in bare soil exposure. These actions will result in additional soil being eroded. Care should be taking to minimize the erosion though careful planning, and implementation. Too much erosion can destroy a project, and neighbors can be harmed.