Mud is the largest non-point source pollution problem facing our lakes, rivers and streams. When soil gets washed into our waterways, it smothers fish habitats, carries dangerous pollutants that threaten water quality and provides the fertile rooting conditions that favor excessive growth of aquatic plants.
Why control erosion? It takes centuries for the physical and chemical decomposition of plant and animal materials to build a few inches of fertile topsoil over subsoils. This irreplaceable, rich surface layer of fertile soil, if left unprotected, can be lost in one major storm or incrementally stripped by a series of smaller wind and rainfall events. Instead of rich, dark soil teeming with life, what are we left with? Stones, rocks and hard ground - a soil devoid of the storehouse of nutrients and structure to support abundance in the terrestrial ecosystem sprouting forth above.
Erosion costs you, the homeowner. You need this fertile layer to grow a healthy lawn, flower gardens, trees or vegetables. Lose it, and you have to buy topsoil that has been stripped from someone else's plot.
Using erosion-control fabrics when seeding or reseeding your lawn is one way to help reduce sedimentation to the lake and other waterways.
Photo courtesy Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources
Erosion costs us, the taxpayers. Topsoil enters culverts and clogs them. Then we pay our highway personnel to clean the mud out of the culverts and drainage-ways. Mud enters the lake. Then we pay our highway personnel to dig the mud out, such as at the mouth of Crescent Creek in Lakewood.
Erosion costs lakefront property owners. Little road ditches enter the lake at numerous points. Most of these artificial waterways are causing problems by delivering sediments to the lake. Lakefront owners then end up paying to remove the deltas of gravel, sand and silt that grow into islands in front of their homes. Longer docks have to be purchased as well to reach a navigable depth.
Erosion costs our environment. When mud enters the lake, the lake plants then have fresh, nutrient-loaded topsoil in which to take root and grow. According to Robert Johnson and Paul Lord of the Cornell Research Ponds, we can reduce the problem of Chautauqua Lake's most prolific nuisance plant - Eurasian watermilfoil - by reducing sedimentation conditions in the lake.
The bottom line: it costs us 100 to 1,000 times more to dig mud and sediments out of the Chautauqua Lake than it does to keep it on-site in the watershed where it belongs.
The best approach to controlling sedimentation is to keep the soil in place and not let it "escape." How? First, disturb as little of the existing surface vegetation as possible. Excavate only the area necessary, such as for a building footprint, not the whole lot. Second, tack it down. As excavation occurs, protect the surface of the excavated soils by hydroseeding or installing straw mulch, burlap or other material or fabric designed to shield the soil particles from being detached and transported by wind or rain.
Hydroseeding is an excellent way to seed excavated sites and hold soil in place. Both Chautauqua Hydroseeding and the County Soil and Water Conservation District provide this service and can tailor a seed mixture to your specific needs, whether it is stabilizing a construction site or seeding a lawn. Local landscapers can provide expert service to prepare, seed and mulch your site.
For more information or technical assistance on erosion control, contact the Chautauqua County Soil & Water Conservation District at 664-2351. For tips on seeding or re-seeding grass, visit gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening. Excavation contractors and developers can find more information at the NYSDEC's website: dec.ny.gov/chemical/8468.html.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.