Eorison Control: When It’s Too Late to Plan Ahead

March 1, 2004
In an ideal world, landfill managers would have plenty of time and money to prepare for the wet season. But of course it doesn’t always work that way. Things happen, schedules slide, and before you know it, the rain is falling … and your erosion control plans never got off the drafting table.Obviously it’s best to prepare your erosion control systems before it rains. It’s cheaper too. But if the wet season catches you unprepared, don’t just throw in the towel. Even after the rain starts, it might be possible to implement some reasonably effective erosion control measures, but you will have to change your strategy. Instead of fitting it into the summer’s work schedule, you’ll have to squeeze in projects between storms. Also, if the soil is saturated or unstable, your options for moving dirt might be limited. In that case, your effort might be related to manual labor.Let’s look at some of the available options for the rainy season.Tractor WorkImmediately after the first rain can be a great time to move dirt—great, that is, as long as the soil did not become saturated. If it didn’t, there will be less dust. The soil might be compacted more easily. And then there’s the big benefit: After that first big rain, you’ll know where the ponding problems are!When it comes to working during the wet season, the first rule is: Don’t make things worse. If you are trying to use a machine but are succeeding only in making big ruts, getting stuck, or risking an accident, it’s probably best to do nothing. Your time might be better spent ordering bales of straw, lining up a low-ground-pressure dozer, or just waiting for a break in the weather.For work that just can’t wait, consider bringing in a low-ground-pressure dozer. “Mudcats,” as they’re called, are equipped with extra-wide track grousers for traction and flotation. Also, depending on the amount of material to be moved, remember that smaller machines are lighter and—even if the ground pressure is similar to that of a large machine—smaller machines are easier to extricate if there’s a chance they will get stuck.If the ground is too wet to drive on, you might consider using an excavator. Some models are equipped with a very long boom or stick, which provides tremendous reach and might be able to “work in the mud while standing on solid ground.” These machines are well suited for cleaning and constructing ditches or sedimentation basins.When things are just too wet and muddy for any machine to work, you might have to import material and bridge it across the wet spots. Of course, that material could be stone or gravel, which can be expensive. Consider using a few loads of shredded wood or greenwaste instead. This material will provide a good temporary base across the muddiest of areas. It also can be used to stabilize a soil slope. Just spread a few inches on the slope to help reduce soil erosion. In a pinch, use brush or tree trimmings.Where loaders or motor graders are used in muddy conditions, traction often is a problem. If that’s the case at your landfill, consider equipping your rubber-tired machines with snow chains. When ordering snow chains, don’t forget you’ll need to chain the “steering” tires to the “drivers.”Hand WorkSometimes it’s just too wet to get a machine in a work area. Or perhaps the problems are too minor to warrant a big tractor. In those cases, manual labor might be the best—and only—option.Some of the most common areas requiring manual labor are soil slopes. These could be landfill, stockpile, or excavation slopes—anywhere erosion can occur and machines can’t easily go when it’s wet.If the slopes are short and the erosion is limited to small rills, simply placing straw or matting on the slope might solve the problem. If you can’t get onto the slope, find a contractor who does hydroseeding. He should have the equipment to blow straw or other mulch onto the slope.If the slopes are long or there is serious erosion, straw or matting alone probably won’t solve the problem. You’ll have to find a way of getting the water quickly off the slope. If you can get a dozer or a motor grader on the site to make a drainage berm or ditch, do it. If it’s too wet for a tractor, get some laborers. Give each one some sandbags and a shovel or a McCleod (rake and grubbing tool). These simple hand tools can be used to quickly construct small drainage ditches that can control runoff and minimize erosion. Even a few carefully placed temporary downdrains can help control runoff and the erosion that goes with it.Also, don’t overlook the option of seeding the slopes while you’re blowing that straw. Just because it says on a permit or a plan that you should have seeded the slopes by a certain calendar date doesn’t mean the seeds won’t grow. Germination is based on moisture and temperature, not a calendar date. If the conditions are right, the seeds will grow. And even if there isn’t enough time for them to grow to maturity, when it comes to stabilization, a little root structure is better than none.If you find yourself fighting the rain to control erosion, don’t beat yourself up. Just look around and figure out how to deal with the problem. Maybe better planning would have prevented the problem … maybe not. Even the most proactive landfills can encounter unexpected problems and leave you working in the mud.Having a good erosion control plan is smart. But it is also smart to know your options if things don’t go exactly as planned. In other words, plan wisely … but keep your rubber boots handy.

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