Ever-changing landscape – erosion and its impact on development

The Saint ReportEnvironmental Planning, saintblog, Waste1 Comment

(Editor’s Note: Katie Lewis has written about stormwater runoff in The Saint Report and looks at the impact of erosion on development and developers)

By Katie Lewis,
Paralegal, The Saint Consulting Group

erosion and developmentErosion and sediment control can prove to be difficult issues with the ever-changing landscape, natural habitat loss and for development sites, these two issues can make or break a project. Previously, I wrote about the dangers and precautions developers must be aware of when choosing a project site. Erosion is one effect that can come from stormwater discharge, and can impact both groundwater, animal and human habitats and major water sources.

Erosion occurs when soil and solid materials are removed from their natural environment. The removal can be man-made, through development and farming, or naturally, via wind, water, weather and animals who make their homes underground. Erosion is due largely in part to the breaking down of the soil, rocks and minerals, but human development has contributed to increased erosion where construction projects are built.

If developers choose to implement proactive land use development methods, and protecting the natural environment of the soil and habitats of animals, erosion can be prevented.

During development, trees are often removed to make room for buildings. Removing these tress and shrubs not only removes natural habitats which many animal species rely on, but it also loosens the soil surrounding the roots. Tree roots often strengthen soil areas, preventing land slides, erosion and flash floods-when we remove these plants, the soil will become more impervious, allowing groundwater to enter more freely. By introducing smart land use practices, such as conservation, replacing trees which have been removed, and installing retaining walls, and using drains to catch stormwater runoff, the ground’s strength will be maintained and erosion risks can be reduced.

However, it must be noted that erosion is not necessarily a bad thing for the environment. Naturally, the earth shifts and animal species contribute, with weather impacting the ground as well, and natural habitats depend on small amounts of erosion to survive. Sometimes there can be benefits from erosion-in order for water systems to be free-flowing, gravel is moved downstream, and land can shift to expose fresh soil in areas where over-use has occurred. However, man-made erosion causes problems like sedimentation, loss of habitat and loss of soil, and can be a vessel for carrying pollutants. Where over-development occurs, natural weather can cause disastrous effects-flash floods, general flooding, stream over-flow and drinking water can become contaminated.

Although erosion caused by storms is not as instantaneous as a development site, the amount of soil loss can be significant, especially when the soil has an opportunity to build up over time. Stormwater runoff, excess water which cannot be absorbed, can be increased risks for erosion, especially if the amount of runoff is reduced due to soil disturbances from development.
Other negative impacts from erosion are climate change, increased tax dollars being spent to clean up man-made disasters like flash floods, sediment back-up in drains, rivers and streams and potentially loss of human and animal life.

In more recent years, developers have had to improvise and be flexible when dealing with zoning ordinances requiring a more environmentally conscious plan. The threat of lawsuits, federal intervention and delays in permitting are all risks one faces if a developer ignores the necessity of a green development plan. The EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other federally regulated agencies are all vital players in the permitting process-developers risk their project being shut down, lawsuits and heavy fines if they choose to ignore the environmentally-conscious cry for responsible building. Not only will local, state and federal officials become more involved in the development process in years to come, federal and state lobbyists will also be sure to be involved when there are signs of negligence or lack of responsibility. By encouraging smart land-use tactics, and implementing the strategies now, developers can save themselves litigation, fees and possible imprisonment for environmentally dangerous development.

Smart land-use development tactics can assist developers who wish to build in sensitive areas. Working with local planning boards to create walkable communities-utilizing the space that has already developed, and creating modern, environmentally safe developments are a few ways to protect our water sources and prevent erosion. Other ways to prevent erosion are to create infiltration trenches (areas to collect stormwater runoff and allow water to naturally be absorbed into the ground); helping to dissipate peak water flow and using pervious parking methods like granulated stone walk ways and parking lots. Also, in order to encourage smart land-use development, cities and towns should update their planning and zoning ordinances to promote green building, and preventative measures which will help minimize any risk to water sources and prevent erosion.

By using smart land-use development, implementing environmentally sound methods to prevent loss of soil and vegetation, man-made erosion can be minimized, therefore protecting our neighborhoods and natural habitats we all enjoy.


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