In the last 40 years, we’ve come to see many things we once thought of as free and limitless-air and water, for example-as resources to be protected. The US has lived for three and a half decades with the evolving Clean Water Act and even longer with the Clean Air Act, and similar regulations have been put in place elsewhere around the globe.
We’re also coming to view as resources some of the things we once wanted to get rid of as quickly as possible. Stormwater runoff-the cause of flooding and the bearer of pollutants to our lakes and rivers-is increasingly harvested for irrigation or infiltrated where it falls rather than being routed through pipes to a river or treatment plant. Wetlands, once considered vermin-filled swamps to be filled in for buildable space, are being restored, not only for the benefit of the creatures that live there but also to fulfill valuable roles for us, such as flood control and uptake of pollutants. Even the trash we’ve buried in landfills is becoming a source of energy.
But what about soil? As John Trotti-the editor of this magazine until 2000 and now the group editor for Erosion Control’s publisher, Forester Communications-notes at the end of his editorial on page 101, soil is really the bottom line, an essential and pretty much nonrenewable resource that we too often take for granted.
Like water, soil is indispensable where it’s needed and a real nuisance where it’s not, as when it’s silting up a river or canal because we didn’t manage to make it stay where it was supposed to. Getting soil back from the places it’s not supposed to be to the places where we want it is hard to do. The complexities of the soil, its structure, and the living organisms within it make the task seem like putting the egg back together once it falls-and we generally don’t have all the king’s resources at our disposal for the task.
And yet we’re doing it. We’re doing it because of a program in Washington state to preserve soil during construction, or, where that proves impossible, to amend disturbed soils. We’re doing it at the many sites where wildfires have scorched the ground and left the soil unprotected, and where we’re stepping in with a multitude of techniques to enrich it and keep it in place. We’re doing it through hundreds of restoration projects that erosion control professionals are undertaking on public and private lands. And, through the efforts of people in the ESC professions, this preservation and restoration of soils is becoming recognized as the logical thing to do, an environmentally responsible and even an economically viable task.It’s our job now to see that good stewardship spreads and effective practices continue. It’s a dirty job, to be sure, but we’ve come a long way.