Does Dirt Hurt?

“Dirt Don’t Hurt”, unless you are talking about sediment. Sediment is made up of loose particles of clay, silt or sand that have been eroded from the soil. Once eroded, they become free flowing in air or water and eventually settle onto land, stream bottoms or lake beds. Sediment is among the most abundant types of non-point source pollution. It is estimated that over 4.5 billion tons of sediment pollute the rivers of the country each year. That is the equivalent of 25,000 football fields, 100 feet deep!

What is so bad about sediment in our water? Sediment in any amount can affect water resources. It can cloud water, preventing animals from seeing food and natural vegetation from growing. Sediment can clog fish gills, reduce resistance to disease, lower growth grates and negatively affect fish egg and larvae development. When settled in stream beds, it destroys the habitat where the smallest stream organisms live, hurting the food chain and causing declines in fish population.

Sediment can fill up storm drains and catch basins, which increases potential for flooding. When settled on river and stream beds it alters the water flow and depth, making navigation and recreational use more difficult. Nutrients carried by sediment can activate blue-green algae, impacting human and wildlife health, as well as aesthetics.

What can we do to help prevent sediment from entering our waterways? At home, sediments can be kept in the yard by keeping areas well vegetated. Planting deep rooted native plants in areas that receive heavy water runoff is an efficient and beautiful way to capture sediments before they enter storm drains and surface water. Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them off into storm drains. Wash your car in a commercial car wash or on a surface that absorbs water, such as grass or gravel. On the farm, conservation practices such as filter strips, grassed waterways, no-till farming and cover crops can greatly reduce soil loss.

The Shiawassee Conservation District has resources for homeowners and farmers on the many methods to prevent sediment from entering surface waters. In addition to technical assistance, financial assistance may be available for implementation of conservation practices through Farm Bill Conservation practices. Contact the District to get started on your conservation plan today.


Pictured above: Sediment in a Shiawassee County waterway.