Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments

Construction Site Management Measure - III. Construction Activities

A. Construction Site Erosion and Sediment Control Management Measure

  1. Reduce erosion and, to the extent practicable, retain sediment onsite during and after construction, and
  2. Prior to land disturbance, prepare and implement an approved erosion and sediment control plan or similar administrative document that contains erosion and sediment control provisions.

1. Applicability

This management measure is intended to be applied by States to all construction activities on sites less than 5 acres in areas that do not have an NPDES permit in order to control erosion and sediment loss from those sites. This management measure does not apply to: (1) construction of a detached single family home on a site of 1/2 acre or more or (2) construction that does not disturb over 5,000 square feet of land on a site. (NOTE: All construction activities, including clearing, grading, and excavation, that result in the disturbance of areas greater than or equal to 5 acres or are a part of a larger development plan are covered by the NPDES regulations and are thus excluded from these requirements.) Under the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990, States are subject to a number of requirements as they develop coastal NPS programs in conformity with this management measure and will have flexibility in doing so. The application of management measures by States is described more fully in Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program: Program Development and Approval Guidance, published jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
 

2. Description

The goal of this management measure is to reduce the sediment loadings from construction sites in coastal areas that enter surface waterbodies. This measure requires that coastal States establish new or enhance existing State erosion and sediment control (ESC) programs and/or require ESC programs at the local level. It is intended to be part of a comprehensive land use or watershed management program, as previously detailed in the Watershed and Site Development Management Measures. It is expected that State and local programs will establish criteria determined by local conditions (e.g., soil types, climate, meteorology) that reduce erosion and sediment transport from construction sites.

Runoff from construction sites is by far the largest source of sediment in urban areas under development (York County Soil and Water Conservation District, 1990). Soil erosion removes over 90 percent of sediment by tonnage in urbanizing areas where most construction activities occur (Canning, 1988). Table 4-14 illustrates some of the measured sediment loading rates associated with construction activities found across the United States. As seen in Table 4-14, erosion rates from natural areas such as undisturbed forested lands are typically less than one ton/acre/year, while erosion from construction sites ranges from 7.2 to over 1,000 tons/acre/year.

Eroded sediment from construction sites creates many problems in coastal areas including adverse impacts on water quality, critical habitats, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) beds, recreational activities, and navigation (APWA, 1991). For example, the Miami River in Florida has been severely affected by pollution associated with upland erosion. This watershed has undergone extensive urbanization, which has included the construction of many commercial and residential buildings over the past 50 years. Sediment deposited in the Miami River channel contributes to the severe water quality and navigation problems of this once-thriving waterway, as well as Biscayne Bay (SFWMD, 1988).

ESC plans are important for controlling the adverse impacts of construction and land development and have been required by many State and local governments, as shown in Table 4-13 (in the Site Development section of this chapter). An ESC plan is a document that explains and illustrates the measures to be taken to control erosion and sediment problems on construction sites (Connecticut Council on Soil and Water Conservation, 1988). It is intended that existing State and local erosion and sediment control plans may be used to fulfill the requirements of this management measure. Where existing ESC plans do not meet the management measure criteria, inadequate plans may be enhanced to meet the management measure guidelines.

Typically, an ESC plan is part of a larger site plan and includes the following elements:
 

  • Description of predominant soil types;
  • Details of site grading including existing and proposed contours;
  • Design details and locations for structural controls;
  • Provisions to preserve topsoil and limit disturbance;
  • Details of temporary and permanent stabilization measures; and
  • Description of the sequence of construction.

ESC plans ensure that provisions for control measures are incorporated into the site planning stage of development and provide for the reduction of erosion and sediment problems and accountability if a problem occurs (York County Soil and Water Conservation District, 1990). An effective plan for urban runoff management on construction sites will control erosion, retain sediments on site, to the extent practicable, and reduce the adverse effects of runoff. Climate, topography, soils, drainage patterns, and vegetation will affect how erosion and sediment should be controlled on a site (Washington State Department of Ecology, 1989). An effective ESC plan includes both structural and nonstructural controls. Nonstructural controls address erosion control by decreasing erosion potential, whereas structural controls are both preventive and mitigative because they control both erosion and sediment movement.

Typical nonstructural erosion controls include (APWA, 1991; York County Soil and Water Conservation District, 1990):
 

  • Planning and designing the development within the natural constraints of the site;
  • Minimizing the area of bare soil exposed at one time (phased grading);
  • Providing for stream crossing areas for natural and man-made areas; and
  • Stabilizing cut-and-fill slopes caused by construction activities.

Structural controls include:

  • Perimeter controls;
  • Mulching and seeding exposed areas;
  • Sediment basins and traps; and
  • Filter fabric, or silt fences.

Some erosion and soil loss are unavoidable during land-disturbing activities. While proper siting and design will help prevent areas prone to erosion from being developed, construction activities will invariably produce conditions where erosion may occur. To reduce the adverse impacts associated with construction, the construction management measure suggests a system of nonstructural and structural erosion and sediment controls for incorporation into an ESC plan. Erosion controls have distinct advantages over sediment controls. Erosion controls reduce the amount of sediment transported off-site, thereby reducing the need for sediment controls. When erosion controls are used in conjunction with sediment controls, the size of the sediment control structures and associated maintenance may be reduced, decreasing the overall treatment costs (SWRPC, 1991).
 

3. Management Measure Selection

This management measure was selected to minimize sediment being transported outside the perimeter of a construction site through two broad performance goals: (1) reduce erosion and (2) retain sediment onsite, to the extent practicable. These performance goals were chosen to allow States and local governments flexibility in specifying practices appropriate for local conditions.

While several commentors responding to the draft (May 1991) guidance expressed the need to define "more measurable, enforceable ways" to control sediment loadings, other commentors stressed the need to draft management measures that do not conflict with existing State programs and allow States and local governments to determine appropriate practices and design standards for their communities. These management measures were selected because virtually all coastal States control construction activities to prevent erosion and sediment loss.

The measures were specifically written for the following reasons:
 

  1. Predevelopment loadings may vary greatly, and some sediment loss is usually inevitable;
  2. Current practice is built on the use of systems of practices selected based on site-specific conditions; and
  3. The combined effectiveness of erosion and sediment controls in systems is not easily quantified.

4. Erosion Control Practices

As discussed more fully at the beginning of this chapter and in Chapter 1, the following practices are described for illustrative purposes only. State programs need not require implementation of these practices. However, as a practical matter, EPA anticipates that the management measure set forth above generally will be implemented by applying one or more management practices appropriate to the source, location, and climate. The practices set forth below have been found by EPA to be representative of the types of practices that can be applied successfully to achieve the management measure described above.

Erosion controls are used to reduce the amount of sediment that is detached during construction and to prevent sediment from entering runoff. Erosion control is based on two main concepts: (1) disturb the smallest area of land possible for the shortest period of time, and (2) stabilize disturbed soils to prevent erosion from occurring.
 

  • a. Schedule projects so clearing and grading are done during the time of minimum erosion potential.

Often a project can be scheduled during the time of year that the erosion potential of the site is relatively low. In many parts of the country, there is a certain period of the year when erosion potential is relatively low and construction scheduling could be very effective. For example, in the Pacific region if construction can be completed during the 6-month dry season (May 1 - October 31), temporary erosion and sediment controls may not be needed. In addition, in some parts of the country erosion potential is very high during certain parts of the year such as the spring thaw in northern areas. During this time of year, melting snowfall generates a constant runoff that can erode soil. In addition, construction vehicles can easily turn the soft, wet ground into mud, which is more easily washed offsite. Therefore, in the north, limitations should be placed on grading during the spring thaw (Goldman et al., 1986).
 

  • b. Stage construction.

Avoid areawide clearance of construction sites. Plan and stage land disturbance activities so that only the area currently under construction is exposed. As soon as the grading and construction in an area are complete, the area should be stabilized.

By clearing only those areas immediately essential for completing site construction, buffer zones are preserved and soil remains undisturbed until construction begins. Physical markers, such as tape, signs, or barriers, indicating the limits of land disturbance, can ensure that equipment operators know the proposed limits of clearing. The area of the watershed that is exposed to construction is important for determining the net amount of erosion. Reducing the extent of the disturbed area will ultimately reduce sediment loads to surface waters. Existing or newly planted vegetation that has been planted to stabilize disturbed areas should be protected by routing construction traffic around and protecting natural vegetation with fencing, tree armoring, retaining walls, or tree wells.
 

  • c. Clear only areas essential for construction.

Often areas of a construction site are unnecessarily cleared. Only those areas essential for completing construction activities should be cleared, and other areas should remain undisturbed. Additionally, the proposed limits of land disturbance should be physically marked off to ensure that only the required land area is cleared. Avoid disturbing vegetation on steep slopes or other critical areas.
 

  • d. Locate potential nonpoint pollutant sources away from steep slopes, waterbodies, and critical areas.

Material stockpiles, borrow areas, access roads, and other land-disturbing activities can often be located away from critical areas such as steep slopes, highly erodible soils, and areas that drain directly into sensitive waterbodies.
 

  • e. Route construction traffic to avoid existing or newly planted vegetation.

Where possible, construction traffic should travel over areas that must be disturbed for other construction activity. This practice will reduce the area that is cleared and susceptible to erosion.
 

  • f. Protect natural vegetation with fencing, tree armoring, and retaining walls or tree wells.

Tree armoring protects tree trunks from being damaged by construction equipment. Fencing can also protect tree trunks, but should be placed at the tree's drip line so that construction equipment is kept away from the tree. The tree drip line is the minimum area around a tree in which the tree's root system should not be disturbed by cut, fill, or soil compaction caused by heavy equipment. When cutting or filling must be done near a tree, a retaining wall or tree well should be used to minimize the cutting of the tree's roots or the quantity of fill placed over the tree's roots.
 

  • g. Stockpile topsoil and reapply to revegetate site.

Because of the high organic content of topsoil, it cannot be used as fill material or under pavement. After a site is cleared, the topsoil is typically removed. Since topsoil is essential to establish new vegetation, it should be stockpiled and then reapplied to the site for revegetation, if appropriate. Although topsoil salvaged from the existing site can often be used, it must meet certain standards and topsoil may need to be imported onto the site if the existing topsoil is not adequate for establishing new vegetation.
 

  • h. Cover or stabilize topsoil stockpiles.

Unprotected stockpiles are very prone to erosion and therefore stockpiles must be protected. Small stockpiles can be covered with a tarp to prevent erosion. Large stockpiles should be stabilized by erosion blankets, seeding, and/or mulching.
 

  • i. Use wind erosion controls.

Wind erosion controls limit the movement of dust from disturbed soil surfaces and include many different practices. Wind barriers block air currents and are effective in controlling soil blowing. Many different materials can be used as wind barriers, including solid board fence, snow fences, and bales of hay. Sprinkling moistens the soil surface with water and must be repeated as needed to be effective for preventing wind erosion (Delaware DNREC, 1989); however, applications must be monitored to prevent excessive runoff and erosion.
 

  • j. Intercept runoff above disturbed slopes and convey it to a permanent channel or storm drain.

Earth dikes, perimeter dikes or swales, or diversions can be used to intercept and convey runoff above disturbed areas. An earth dike is a temporary berm or ridge of compacted soil that channels water to a desired location. A perimeter dike/swale or diversion is a swale with a supporting ridge on the lower side that is constructed from the soil excavated from the adjoining swale (Delaware DNREC, 1989). These practices should be used to intercept flow from denuded areas or newly seeded areas to keep the disturbed areas from being eroded from the uphill runoff. The structures should be stabilized within 14 days of installation. A pipe slope drain, also known as a pipe drop structure, is a temporary pipe placed from the top of a slope to the bottom of the slope to convey concentrated runoff down the slope without causing erosion (Delaware DNREC, 1989).
 

  • k. On long or steep, disturbed, or man-made slopes, construct benches, terraces, or ditches at regular intervals to intercept runoff.

Benches, terraces, or ditches break up a slope by providing areas of low slope in the reverse direction. This keeps water from proceeding down the slope at increasing volume and velocity. Instead, the flow is directed to a suitable outlet, such as a sediment basin or trap. The frequency of benches, terraces, or ditches will depend on the erodibility of the soils, steepness and length of the slope, and rock outcrops. This practice should be used if there is a potential for erosion along the slope.
 

  • l. Use retaining walls.

Often retaining walls can be used to decrease the steepness of a slope. If the steepness of a slope is reduced, the runoff velocity is decreased and, therefore, the erosion potential is decreased.
 

  • m. Provide linings for urban runoff conveyance channels.

Often construction increases the velocity and volume of runoff, which causes erosion in newly constructed or existing urban runoff conveyance channels. If the runoff during or after construction will cause erosion in a channel, the channel should be lined or flow control BMPs installed. The first choice of lining should be grass or sod since this reduces runoff velocities and provides water quality benefits through filtration and infiltration. If the velocity in the channel would erode the grass or sod, then riprap, concrete, or gabions can be used.
 

  • n. Use check dams.

Check dams are small, temporary dams constructed across a swale or channel. They can be constructed using gravel or straw bales. They are used to reduce the velocity of concentrated flow and, therefore, to reduce the erosion in a swale or channel. Check dams should be used when a swale or channel will be used for a short time and therefore it is not feasible or practical to line the channel or implement flow control BMPs (Delaware DNREC, 1989).
 

  • o. Seed and fertilize.

Seeding establishes a vegetative cover on disturbed areas. Seeding is very effective in controlling soil erosion once a dense vegetative cover has been established. However, often seeding and fertilizing do not produce as thick a vegetative cover as do seed and mulch or netting. Newly established vegetation does not have as extensive a root system as existing vegetation and therefore is more prone to erosion, especially on steep slopes. Care should be taken when fertilizing to avoid untimely or excessive application. Since the practice of seeding and fertilizing does not provide any protection during the time of vegetative establishment, it should be used only on favorable soils in very flat areas and not in sensitive areas.
 

  • p. Use seeding and mulch/mats.

Seeding establishes a vegetative cover on disturbed areas. Seeding is very effective in controlling soil erosion once the vegetative cover has been established. The mulching/mats protect the disturbed area while the vegetation becomes established.

The management of land by using ground cover reduces erosion by reducing the flow rate of runoff and the raindrop impact. Bare soils should be seeded or otherwise stabilized within 15 calendar days after final grading. Denuded areas that are inactive and will be exposed to rain for 30 days or more should also be temporarily stabilized, usually by planting seeds and establishing vegetation during favorable seasons in areas where vegetation can be established. In very flat, non-sensitive areas with favorable soils, stabilization may involve simply seeding and fertilizing. Mulching and/or sodding may be necessary as slopes become moderate to steep, as soils become more erosive, and as areas become more sensitive.
 

  • q. Use mulch/mats.

Mulching involves applying plant residues or other suitable materials on disturbed soil surfaces. Mulchs/mats used include tacked straw, wood chips, and jute netting and are often covered by blankets or netting. Mulching alone should be used only for temporary protection of the soil surface or when permanent seeding is not feasible. The useful life of mulch varies with the material used and the amount of precipitation, but is approximately 2 to 6 months. Figure 4-5 shows water velocity reductions that could be expected using various mulching techniques. Similarly, Figure 4-6 shows reductions in soil loss achievable using various mulching techniques. During times of year when vegetation cannot be established, soil mulching should be applied to moderate slopes and soils that are not highly erodible. On steep slopes or highly erodible soils, multiple mulching treatments should be used. On a high-elevation or desert site where grasses cannot survive the harsh environment, native shrubs may be planted. Interlocking ceramic materials, filter fabric, and netting are available for this purpose. Before stabilizing an area, it is important to have installed all sediment controls and diverted runoff away from the area to be planted. Runoff may be diverted away from denuded areas or newly planted areas using dikes, swales, or pipe slope drains to intercept runoff and convey it to a permanent channel or storm drain. Reserved topsoil may be used to revegetate a site if the stockpile has been covered and stabilized.

Consideration should be given to maintenance when designing mulching and matting schemes. Plastic nets are often used to cover the mulch or mats; however, they can foul lawn mower blades if the area requires mowing.
 

  • r. Use sodding.

Sodding permanently stabilizes an area. Sodding provides immediate stabilization of an area and should be used in critical areas or where establishment of permanent vegetation by seeding and mulching would be difficult. Sodding is also a preferred option when there is a high erosion potential during the period of vegetative establishment from seeding.
 

  • s. Use wildflower cover..

Because of the hardy drought-resistant nature of wildflowers, they may be more beneficial as an erosion control practice than turf grass. While not as dense as turfgrass, wildflower thatches and associated grasses are expected to be as effective in erosion control and contaminant absorption. Because thatches of wildflowers do not need fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, and watering is minimal, implementation of this practice may result in a cost savings (Brash et al., undated). In 1987, Howard County, Maryland, spent $690.00 per acre to maintain turfgrass areas, compared to only $31.00 per acre for wildflower meadows (Wilson, 1990).

A wildflower stand requires several years to become established; maintenance requirements are minimal once the area is established (Brash et al., undated).
 

5. Sediment Control Practices

As discussed more fully at the beginning of this chapter and in Chapter 1, the following practices are described for illustrative purposes only. State programs need not require implementation of these practices. However, as a practical matter, EPA anticipates that the management measure set forth above generally will be implemented by applying one or more management practices appropriate to the source, location, and climate. The practices set forth below have been found by EPA to be representative of the types of practices that can be applied successfully to achieve the management measure described above.

Sediment controls capture sediment that is transported in runoff. Filtration and detention (gravitational settling) are the main processes used to remove sediment from urban runoff.
 

  • a. Sediment Basins

Sediment basins, also known as silt basins, are engineered impoundment structures that allow sediment to settle out of the urban runoff. They are installed prior to full-scale grading and remain in place until the disturbed portions of the drainage area are fully stabilized. They are generally located at the low point of sites, away from construction traffic, where they will be able to trap sediment-laden runoff.

Sediment basins are typically used for drainage areas between 5 and 100 acres. They can be classified as either temporary or permanent structures, depending on the length of service of the structure. If they are designed to function for less than 36 months, they are classified as "temporary"; otherwise, they are considered permanent structures. Temporary sediment basins can also be converted into permanent urban runoff management ponds. When sediment basins are designed as permanent structures, they must meet all standards for wet ponds.
 

  • b. Sediment Trap

Sediment traps are small impoundments that allow sediment to settle out of runoff water. Sediment traps are typically installed in a drainageway or other point of discharge from a disturbed area. Temporary diversions can be used to direct runoff to the sediment trap. Sediment traps should not be used for drainage areas greater than 5 acres and typically have a useful life of approximately 18 to 24 months.
 

  • c. Filter Fabric Fence

Filter fabric fence is available from many manufacturers and in several mesh sizes. Sediment is filtered out as urban runoff flows through the fabric. Such fences should be used only where there is sheet flow (i.e., no concentrated flow), and the maximum drainage area to the fence should be 0.5 acre or less per 100 feet of fence. Filter fabric fences have a useful life of approximately 6 to 12 months.
 

  • d. Straw Bale Barrier

A straw bale barrier is a row of anchored straw bales that detain and filter urban runoff. Straw bales are less effective than filter fabric, which can usually be used in place of straw bales. However, straw bales have been effectively used as temporary check dams in channels. As with filter fabric fences, straw bale barriers should be used only where there is sheet flow. The maximum drainage area to the barrier should be 0.25 acre or less per 100 feet of barrier. The useful life of straw bales is approximately 3 months.
 

  • e. Inlet Protection

Inlet protection consists of a barrier placed around a storm drain drop inlet, which traps sediment before it enters the storm sewer system. Filter fabric, straw bales, gravel, or sand bags are often used for inlet protection.
 

  • f. Construction Entrance

A construction entrance is a pad of gravel over filter cloth located where traffic leaves a construction site. As vehicles drive over the gravel, mud, and sediment are collected from the vehicles' wheels and offsite transport of sediment is reduced.
 

  • g. Vegetated Filter Strips

Vegetated filter strips are low-gradient vegetated areas that filter overland sheet flow. Runoff must be evenly distributed across the filter strip. Channelized flows decrease the effectiveness of filter strips. Level spreading devices are often used to distribute the runoff evenly across the strip (Dillaha et al., 1989).

Vegetated filter strips should have relatively low slopes and adequate length and should be planted with erosion-resistant plant species. The main factors that influence the removal efficiency are the vegetation type, soil infiltration rate, and flow depth and travel time. These factors are dependent on the contributing drainage area, slope of strip, degree and type of vegetative cover, and strip length. Maintenance requirements for vegetated filter strips include sediment removal and inspections to ensure that dense, vigorous vegetation is established and concentrated flows do not occur. Maintenance of these structures is discussed in Section II.A of this chapter.
 

6. Effectiveness and Cost Information

  • a. Erosion Control Practices

The effectiveness of erosion control practices can vary based on land slope, the size of the disturbed area, rainfall frequency and intensity, wind conditions, soil type, use of heavy machinery, length of time soils are exposed and unprotected, and other factors. In general, a system of erosion and sediment control practices can more effectively reduce offsite sediment transport than can a single system. Numerous nonstructural measures such as protecting natural or newly planted vegetation, minimizing the disturbance of vegetation on steep slopes and other highly erodible areas, maximizing the distance eroded material must travel before reaching the drainage system, and locating roads away from sensitive areas may be used to reduce erosion.

Table 4-15 (26k) contains the available cost and effectiveness data for some of the erosion controls listed above. Information on the effectiveness of individual nonstructural controls was not available. All reported effectiveness data assume that controls are properly designed, constructed, and maintained. Costs have been broken down into annual capital costs, annual maintenance costs, and total annual costs (including annualization of the capital costs).
 

  • b. Sediment Control Practices

Regular inspection and maintenance are needed for most erosion control practices to remain effective. The effectiveness of sediment controls will depend on the size of the construction site and the nature of the runoff flows. Sediment basins are most appropriate for drainage areas of 5 acres or greater. In smaller areas with concentrated flows, silt traps may suffice. Where concentrated flow leaves the site and the drainage area is less than 0.5 ac/100 ft of flow, filter fabric fences may be effective. In areas where sheet flow leaves the site and the drainage area is greater than 0.5 acre/100 ft of flow, perimeter dikes may be used to divert the flow to a sediment trap or sediment basin. Urban runoff inlets may be protected using straw bales or diversions to filter or route runoff away from the inlets. Table 4-16 (25k) describes the general cost and effectiveness of some common sediment control practices.
 

  • c. Comparisons

Figure 4-7 illustrates the estimated TSS loading reductions from Maryland construction sites possible using a combination of erosion and sediment controls in contrast to using only sediment controls.

Figure 4-8 shows a comparison of the cost and effectiveness of various erosion control practices. As can be seen in Figure 4-8, seeding or seeding and mulching provide the highest levels of control at the lowest cost.


 

Return to Previous Section

 

Continue to Next Section

 

Return to the Table of Contents


Jump to main content.