The long awaited spring has finally arrived. Goodbye snow and icy roads, dreary days spent indoors, and abundant layers of clothes. Hello…mud. I took a walk in the Tamarack Nature Preserve over lunch today and I saw a guy in the parking lot basking in a lawn chair next to his car as if it were the middle of summer. Luckily for me, there are wooden boardwalks crossing the wetlands in the preserve because there was still a fair amount of ice on the trails and where there wasn’t ice, there was mud. Meanwhile in my own backyard, the lawn is more like a quaking bog than a play space.
Mud is an inevitable part of spring, but it can be a big problem for local lakes and streams when it doesn’t stay put on the land. Active building sites can be particularly problematic, even when they’re relatively small. In Minnesota, the Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) requires a permit for all construction sites disturbing an acre or more of soil. These permits require that the land owners and developers install erosion control measures to keep mud from washing off into nearby lakes and streams, especially during spring snow melt and heavy rains. If the site will remain inactive for 14 days or more, such as during the winter, permit holders must stabilize all bare soil and stockpiles of soil with mulch, staked sod, riprap, erosion control blankets, or another material that prevents the soil from eroding.
Oftentimes the local Watershed District or city may have erosion control requirements that are even more restrictive than the MPCA. For example, the Brown’s Creek Watershed District requires permits for all projects that move more than 50 cubic yards of soil or remove vegetation from 5000 square feet of land. Also, the MPCA and local watersheds have additional provisions in place for building sites located near lakes, rivers and wetlands.
Though permit systems are in place, mud still slips through the cracks in many places, especially during the spring. Erosion control materials can get knocked down or beat up during the winter, which makes it all the more important for builders to get out on site at this time of year to repair things before the dirt starts washing into waterways or clogging up storm sewers. Oftentimes, small residential projects can be a problem because they aren’t large enough to require a permit. People who are doing a little landscaping or home remodeling don’t always think about erosion control, but the dirt can wash off of small sites just as easily as large ones.
One thing to look for in your own neighborhood is trails of dirt or mud leading to storm drains in the streets. Tracing backwards it is usually pretty easy to see where the mud is coming from; if it is a small area in the yard or boulevard, a few bags of mulch or a small roll of erosion control fabric from the local hardware store might be enough to fix the problem. Mud coming from larger building sites should be reported to the city or the local watershed district. In addition, the MPCA has a Stormwater Hotline at 651-757-2119.
If you own a larger track of land, such as a farm, the Washington Conservation District can offer advice and sometime funding assistance to reduce mud on your property and prevent erosion from washing away valuable pastures and crop land, polluting wetlands, lakes and streams in the process. To schedule a free site visit, contact 651-330-8220.