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Urban Development, Its Impact on Natural Hydrology, and the Solution.

Have you ever considered what happens with the runoff from the impervious surfaces of your property?

Fact: In the metro area construction is booming and houses are being built at an unbelievable rate. This has consequences.

Problem 1 (Compaction)-The equipment used by builders to excavate, grade, and build our homes are heavy. So heavy they compact soils to the point of almost 0% airspace. Most soils in the developing suburbs are made up of heavy clay particles. When these are compacted and air space is eliminated organic matter and microorganisms which ar needed for subsoil aeration is depleted and water infiltration capabilities are next to eliminated.

Problem 2 (Sod) -When the home is built typically sod is laid. Sod is in my opinion a poor choice for establishing a new turf for a number of reasons which can be set aside for another article. For purposes of this article we will leave it at sod does not establish very deep roots leaving water to collect and flow over the site instead of infiltrating and being taken up by the turf grass.

Problem 3 (Irrigation) - Irrigation Period. When we irrigate our impenetrable turf surfaces (outside of the 2 week summer dormancy period) we are not doing the grass area or our sites any favors. In fact we create a weaker turf and make the grass plants more susceptible to diseases. Ideally plants should be stressed to almost the wilting point at which time roots are forced to penetrated deeper to seek water. Deeper roots equal more water penetration and less runoff or wet areas on our properties. Also I should mention this water runs off to the neighbors property who inevitably will run their irrigation.

Runoff is a major concern. Runoff carries with it solids and residuals which contain chemicals and heavy metals that eventually end up saturating our natural waterways this is a fact. Have you noticed recently how overgrown and yucky the algae is at the lake? How about the dead floating fish? No this is not because nature isn't maintaining the lakes ecosystem. The lakes are algae ridden almost to the point they are unusable because they are the destination point for storm water runoff in the surrounding area hence why there is a lake there in the first place. The fertilizers and heavy metals contained in runoff causes algae blooms which feed on dissolved oxygen in the water and kills the fish which require dissolved oxygen to survive.

Yes there is a solution and it is very real. You can touch it, feel it, it exists and No it is not crazy or complicated.

Seed VS Sod- Choosing to establish a turf by seeding will encourage stronger and deeper root establishment. Allowing more water penetration and uptake by grass

Reduce or Eliminate Irrigation- and add iron- Irrigating only during the summer dormancy period and encouraging your neighbors to do the same will reduce the amount of runoff and excess water saturating the root zone of turf areas.

Introduce Organic Matter- Introducing organic matter into your property by top-dressing with compost spraying compost tea or other methods will encourage microorganisms and biological life within your soil to move around, live and die which will all help re-engineer heavy clay soils

Rain Gardens and Vegetative Areas- In areas where high volumes of standing water or natural water flow is traveling implementing a sustainable solution such as rain gardens or other deep rooted penetrable vegetative areas, may be an appropriate and ecologically responsible option. It is my prediction that this will soon become a required Best Management Practice or (BMP), especially on a municipal and commercial level.

Conclusion- Urban development at accelerated rates can have damaging and lethal effects on natural hydrology and the waterways we take pride in here in Minnesota and elsewhere. It is important to understand how our actions and choices impact this system so we can make educated and informed decisions regarding our properties, the environment and the earth. There are more environmentally responsible alternatives to the traditional saturated landscape that we can feel, touch and measure. It is time to embrace these cultural practices and encourage our neighbors to do the same.

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