The Key to Halting Damage to 36,000 Miles Of U.S. Waterways Annually

To All,

This is a message from Karen of Clean Water Network that should be of interest to River Watch members and supporters.

Exposed Soil = Pollution  The Key to Halting Damage to 36,000 Miles Of U.S. Waterways Annually

Hello CWN members, I’m Richard Klein.  I’ve been helping folks throughout the U.S. win sediment pollution and other clean water battles since the 1970s.  Recently I’ve learned that clean water advocates now have a rare opportunity to dramatically reduce a major pollution source just by educating the public that Exposed Soil = Pollution, particularly when you see it on a construction site.  A few experiments have shown that spreading this message can improve construction site sediment pollution control throughout a region by up to 77% in just one year!  You can help win this battle by signing our petition and by informing your supporters and the public at large that:

              Exposed Construction Site Soil = Pollution
             Demand Full Use of Erosion Control Measures

As of 2009, USEPA data showed that 107,231 miles of U.S. waterways had been damaged by sediment pollution.[1]  A sizeable portion comes from the 18 million acres of construction sites active throughout the country at any given moment.[2]  Nationwide, construction site erosion and sediment pollution generation rates average 100 to 10,000 times the rate for forest.[3]  One study indicated that without effective control, the sediment pollution released from a site could damage three miles of downstream waters with recovery taking up to a century.[4]  Based upon the EPA data there could be more than 12,000 sites active nationwide, which creates the potential to damage 36,000 miles of downstream waters annually.

Fortunately, all construction sites over one acre must use measures to minimize soil erosion and subsequent sediment pollution.[5]  However, most sites only benefit from ineffective measures like frequently failing silt fences. Silt fences and other perimeter controls are very ineffective at preventing sediment pollution

Straw, Grass & Other Erosion Controls Key To Aquatic Resource Protection
Most of the nutrients and other pollutants entrained in construction site sediment pollution are dissolved or attached to clay and other fine particles.  The most commonly used measures like silt fence, sediment ponds and other perimeter controls cannot retain clay-bound or dissolved pollutants.  Plus, aquatic ecosystem damage cannot be prevented unless large quantities of clay particles are kept out of downstream waters.

Only by stabilizing (protecting) soil from erosion with straw mulch, grass or stone can you keep clay and dissolved pollutants on a construction site.[1]  Mulch alone reduces erosion by 90% and a thick grass cover achieves a 99% reduction.  So, whenever you see exposed soil on a construction site you can assume a nearby waterway will be polluted come the next storm.  In other words: Exposed Soil = Pollution.
Each Dollar Spent On Erosion Control Prevents $100 In Downstream Damages
Once initial grading stops and building or road construction begins all exposed soils should be covered with a layer of straw mulch or planted in grass if an area will not undergo earth-moving for 14 days or more.  Road and parking lot beds should be covered with a base course of stone ASAP.  The stone is not only a normal part of road construction but usually halts erosion of the underlying soils.  For each dollar spent keeping sediment on a construction site, at least $100 in downstream damages are avoided.[1]  Mulch must be kept thick enough to obscure underlying soil from view

Lack Of Erosion Control Is Also Illegal
Section, of the USEPA NPDES General Permit for Discharges from Construction Activities requires that when earth-moving activity (filling-cutting-grading) will cease for 14 days or more all exposed soil must be stabilized (protected) from erosive forces.[1]  The most commonly used measures are straw mulch, grass, stone or some equally effective erosion control practice.  Mulch is used in areas where grass cannot grow due to foot or vehicle traffic, like next to buildings under construction.  The mulch must be maintained thick enough so underlying soil cannot be seen.  As stated above, road and parking lot beds must be covered with stone.  All idle areas must be mulched and seeded with grass, then maintained to achieve at least a 95% vegetative cover.

Become An Erosion Control Advocate
When you see exposed soil on a construction site where earth-moving has ceased and building has begun, you’re not only seeing a pollution threat but a violation of the law.  Contact your local or state elected representative and urge them to have the appropriate agency get the soil stabilized.  If the agency claims a project is exempt from the NPDES requirement then contact me at 410-654-3021 or  Together we’ll figure out if this is true.  If it is true then we’ll develop a strategy for using Politically Oriented Advocacy to win adoption of the necessary legislation.  This approach has proven more effective than past efforts like Get The Dirt Out.

About The Author
Richard Klein has been an advocate for aquatic resource protection since 1969.  Over the past 47 years he’s won better sediment pollution control on numerous of construction sites throughout the U.S.  For 18 years Richard was with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, spending ten years as the director of Save Our Streams.  In 1987, he founded his day-job as president of CEDS and has since helped thousands of citizens across the nation prevent threats to neighborhoods and the environment.

For further information:

Exposed Soil = Pollution webpage;
ES=P Guide which shows why erosion control is important and how to evaluate construction site erosion control quality