How to Control Erosion and Runoff

Landscape Design with Erosion Control in Mind

Land degradation through soil erosion, and runoff carrying sediment and contaminants, can significantly affect your home or yard, as well as your neighborhood, natural habitats near you and the water supply.

Enhancing soil retention and avoiding runoff will help you to ensure that your property is properly maintained and more enjoyable, while also doing your part to protect the environment and conserve water.

What Is Erosion?

Erosion is the natural process by which soil and rock is removed from one area, and then carried to and deposited in a different spot.

This surface-changing process occurs from wind, rainfall, waves and water flow.

Unfortunately, the rate by which erosion occurs has significantly increased over time due to human influences and activities.

This natural process is why we have beautiful sightseeing opportunities at places like the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, but it can also lead to the loss of nutrient-dense soil, excessive sediment in waterways, disruption of ecosystems, desertification and other environmental problems.

While you may not be concerned about the potential agricultural productivity of your land or maintaining the health of an ecosystem in your backyard, erosion also affects homeowners on an individual level, and erosion control must be considered in any landscape design to avoid putting your home and yard at risk.

This is particularly true in sloped yards, but even ground that appears to be relatively flat can experience significant erosion or runoff and cause problems or damage to your home.

Rock Formations Caused by Erosion

What Is Runoff?

Runoff is a type of water flow that leads to water erosion and occurs when your soil is unable to hold more water – either because the rate of absorption is slower than the rate at which water is being introduced to the soil, or the soil becomes so saturated that it cannot absorb more water.

This can occur during and after heavy rainfall, when snow melts or from over watering your yard.

This can be a small problem or a big problem, depending on the amount of runoff, what the runoff carries away with it, what the runoff picks up as it flows to its destination and where the runoff ends up.

Excess water that is not evaporated or absorbed during its journey will ultimately end up in some body of water, such as the ocean, a river, an estuary or a pond by way of streams or storm water drains along residential streets.

Unfortunately, this water is likely to pick up an abundance of pollutants on its way to its destination, including chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used in the care of conventional grass lawns, toxins used in car care and residue sitting on top of pavement waiting to be washed down the nearest storm water drain with the next rainfall.

While runoff is clearly bad for the environment and one way our water supply is being polluted, it also can have a more immediate effect on homeowners by ruining their landscaping efforts, damaging the foundation or their home or flooding their basement.

When runoff is a result of over watering or improperly watering your yard, it will also lead to higher water bills.

If your yard does not have proper drainage and erosion control, runoff can lead to significant erosion events that can carry away your topsoil, devastate your landscape, cause damage to your home and make you dig deep into your wallet to make the necessary repairs to your yard or house.

Runoff from your yard can also carry sediment and contaminants into neighboring properties or the water supply.

Runoff eventually reaches oceans or other bodies of water.

Why Should San Diego Homeowners Care About Erosion and Runoff?

Erosion and runoff are issues homeowners may deal with in any part of the country, but Southern California’s dry climate, the lack of vegetation in many areas and the influence urban sprawl has on erosion makes it a particular concern for homeowners in this area.

San Diego’s clay soil can sometimes make matters worse when we do have higher-than-average rainfall or when you accidentally leave your sprinklers on, since the qualities of clay soil can make it difficult for water to absorb into the ground.

In drought-prone Southern California, we should also be concerned about the water that is wasted when runoff occurs from over watering.

You can save money and conserve water by ensuring that you are watering your lawn and other landscape features efficiently.

Water pollution from runoff is also an issue in any part of the country, but San Diego is home to many fragile areas, including wetlands that need to be protected from contaminants in order to preserve natural habitats.

San Diego’s lakes, beaches and rivers are negatively affected by residential and commercial runoff that contains sediment and pollutants, making this an issue that should be of concern to us all.

Wood Retaining Wall

10 Ways to Control Erosion and Runoff

The emphasis you need to place on erosion and runoff when designing your landscape depends on the particular features of your yard.

For example, if your backyard gently slopes away from your home, you may be able to use simple, affordable landscaping options to prevent excessive erosion, but if you have a steep incline in your backyard, you may need more extensive erosion control features, such as terraces with retaining walls.

Often, a multi-prong approach is the most helpful in addressing runoff or erosion issues.

Below are 10 options for controlling erosion and runoff on your property.

1. Hire an irrigation design professional to analyze your yard and design an automatic irrigation system that will efficiently water your landscape without the risk of over watering and causing unnecessary runoff.

2. Create more usable outdoor living space in your backyard, while protecting your home and landscape from hillside erosion and runoff by installing wood or paving stone retaining walls.

3. Install artificial grass on gently sloping ground to help ensure proper drainage and avoid runoff carrying soil to the bottom of the slope.

4. Hire a landscape designer to ensure proper drainage is built in to your backyard landscape.

5. Prevent erosion on a steep or sloping driveway by installing pavers, which will beautify your home and provide a slip-resistant surface.

Terrace Garden

6. If you experience runoff flowing through your natural grass lawn and out to the street, consider replacing your conventional lawn with a synthetic turf lawn. Manufactured grass requires no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides that can enter the water supply through runoff.

7. If you have a river, beach, stream, wetlands or other watershed near your home, consult with an environmental conservation organization or a water mitigation specialist to determine how best to manage runoff and erosion issues.

8. Plant your slope with native plants that require little water and can anchor the soil as their root systems become established.

9. Include fiber mulch mats in your landscape design to hold moisture in the soil and assist in preventing erosion.

10. If you have a steep hillside, talk with a landscape engineer about installing a terrace system that will help control erosion and create more usable space in your yard. This can even allow for seating areas or vegetable gardens on the different terraces.

Contaminated runoff can destroy natural habitats.

Erosion and Runoff Control: Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that runoff from your property may not be significantly affecting the landscaping or buildings at your home, but it may be going into storm water drains at the street or finding its way onto your neighbor’s property.

This makes controlling erosion and runoff necessary for the ongoing upkeep of your own yard, as well as for making sure you are being a responsible neighbor and protecting the environment as much as you can.

Some soil retention and water conservation can be accomplished simply by ensuring proper irrigation or through simple do-it-yourself projects, while other efforts will require the assistance of professionals.

Your Turn…

Have you dealt with erosion or runoff issues at your home?

If so, let us know how you changed your yard’s landscape to control it in the comments below.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance): stock.xchng, Krappweis; stock.xchng, MEJones; stock.xchng, ColinBroug; stock.xchng, shortsands; stock.xchng, mommyof9;   stock.xchng, scrapcatz