Sediment polluting our waters

  • Published
  • By Kate Hasapes
  • 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron
When you see muddy tire tracks on the street, what is the first thing you think of?  Maybe you think of off-roading on the weekends, or maybe it reminds you of how muddy it is from recent rain events.  The last thing you might think of is mud and sediment as pollutants.

Sediment is loose soil particles that cloud and settle at the bottom of a body of water.  How can sediment be a pollutant?  Isn’t sediment found in nature?  Sediment becomes a pollutant when found in large quantities and specifically when erosion occurs.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency lists sediment as one of the most common pollutants in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs.

When it rains, water runoff drains into bayous, rivers and eventually reaches oceans.  This runoff is not treated before being discharged into the local water body, and can carry pollutants including sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, animal waste containing pathogens and trash found on the ground or streets - just to name a few.  Sediment can cloud the water, impair fish respiration and sight, reduce aquatic vegetation productivity, reduce water depth when settled, destroy smaller waterbody ecosystems and even reduce our ability to enjoy the water. 

Rivers, such as the Red River, are occasionally dredged to remove excess sediments from navigation channels and behind river locks, which is costly and temporarily interrupts river activities.  Off-road vehicles are also a big culprit of erosion by compacting the soils, reducing vegetation growth, increasing water runoff and tracking sediment onto paved roads.  These reasons, along with the cost and time of trail repairs, are why unauthorized off-roading is prohibited on Barksdale. 

Sediment buildup in streams, lakes and oceans is difficult to control; however, there are a few things we can do to help slow the process.  Construction activities are the most common cause of sediment pollution in urban areas.  Using best management practices on construction sites help control sediment from leaving the site.  These practices include cleaning up mud or dirt from the pavement and protecting storm drains from site runoff. In rural areas, reforesting stream banks helps stabilize the soils from livestock traffic and during heavy rain and flooding events. 

What can you do locally to help reduce sediment pollution?  If you enjoy off-roading, stay clear of water bodies, including seasonally dry stream beds, and clean off tires before driving onto a paved surface.  You can also get your community involved in re-vegetating streambanks that are deteriorating and eroding away.  State and federal programs provide cost share assistance to landowners to fix eroded stream banks and plant with native vegetation.  This also increases wildlife habitat for birds, butterflies and a slew of other native animals.  Overall, simply being aware of the problem can make the public more conscious of their personal impacts on our bayous and rivers.

Keeping our water clean is everyone’s responsibility.  For more information, contact Barksdale’s Environmental Program Manager, Kate Hasapes, at 318-456-2770.  It takes the whole team to keep Barksdale clean!