The Dirt On Conservation | Conserve soil: the other black gold

Rain, rain go away come again another day, perhaps June or July when our crops will hopefully be ready for a refreshing drink.

I know, we are never happy. When it’s dry, we want rain; when it’s raining, we complain it’s too wet; when it’s 90 degrees, we’re too hot, and then when snow falls, we’re too cold.

Look around. An overabundance of rain can cause many potential problems.

The most obvious is flooding. However, our concern is the much greater problem of soil erosion and non-point source pollution. This year, we have seen a tremendous amount of water due to snow melt and several 2- to 4-inch rainfall events.

Next time you take a walk or a Sunday drive, look at how much erosion has occurred this past winter and early spring. Notice how muddy our ditches and streams are.

When fast-moving water runs across our landscape it picks up contaminants such as sediment, nutrients or bacteria, carrying these pollutants to small streams that eventually flow into a larger river. This happens everywhere.

Pollutants can come from construction areas, farm fields, driveways, roads and sidewalks.

Do you know what the number one pollutant is as it pertains to water quality?

Sediment

Sediment is defined as particles derived from soil or rock that have been, or are being, transported by wind or water. The Environmental Protection Agency lists sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs.

While natural erosion produces nearly 30 percent of the total sediment in the United States, accelerated erosion from human use of land accounts for the remaining 70 percent.

So, why should we care? Soil is an important ingredient in your everyday life. Soils make our lives possible. We build on them, play on them, drive on them, eat food grown in or raised on them, take medicines from them, wear clothes we wouldn’t have without soils, drink water that wouldn’t be clean without soils, breathe air we wouldn’t have without the plants and trees growing in soils.

The entire earth — every ecosystem, every living organism — is dependent upon soils.

Erosion

When erosion occurs sediment fills up road ditches, storm drains and catch basins to carry water away from roads and homes, which increases the potential for flooding. Water polluted with sediment becomes cloudy, preventing animals from seeing food. Murky water prevents natural vegetation from growing in water.

Sediment in stream beds disrupts the natural food chain by destroying the habitat where the smallest stream organisms live and causing massive declines in fish population.

Sediment increases the cost of treating drinking water and can result in odor and taste problems. Nutrients transported by sediment can activate blue-green algae that release toxins and can make swimmers sick.

More reasons

If these aren’t enough reasons to be concerned about soil erosion think about this. It takes, through natural processes, more than 500 years to form one inch of topsoil.

Soil is the other black gold. We can’t afford to lose this valuable resource. If we all do our part to be good stewards of the land we will be able to ensure a great future for the next generation.

Protection steps

Here are just a few things that you can do. Be cautious not to hose down sidewalks and driveways, which may result in sediment and pollutants running off into storm drains which lead to ditches and streams.

Never leave bare soil, seed down and use straw erosion control blankets to hold seed in place until established. Leave buffer strips along edges of ditches, streams or creeks. This will create a safe buffer zone to help minimize erosion and naturally filter storm water runoff that may contain sediment.

If you are involved in production agriculture, you should be utilizing waterways, filter strips, WASCOBs, contour strips or practicing minimum and no tillage. We are very fortunate to have productive soils in Ohio.

It is our responsibility to conserve and protect this resource. For more information on conservation contact your local soil and water conservation district.

(Cathy Berg is the program administrator for the Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District. Berg has a bachelor’s degree in science from The Ohio State University, with a major in agronomy with soils specialization and a minor in natural resources management.)

About the Author

Cathy Berg, Program Administrator for the Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District for 15 past years. Bachelor of Science Degree from The Ohio State University. Major in Agronomy with soils specialization and a minor in Natural Resources Management. More Stories by Cathy Berg

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