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earthworks road drainage  RSS feed

 
steward
Posts: 25164
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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When we arrived on this property, a heavy rain would send a lot of water and dirt off of the property.  It would erode patches in the middle of the driveway - which isn't too big of a deal since the driveway is almost one solid, giant rock.

But in an effort to keep the water and soil on the property, we have done a few things.

In the first pic, i have highlighted the two things to see.  Both look a bit like speed bumps, but they are really all about moving the water to where it can be of value.  Both of them started off so tall and rough that you could not drive over them without high centering.  So on a very wet day, I drove the tractor over them to smash them down a bit.  A few more rains and a few other cars driving over them and they should become nearly invisible - but still do their assigned task. 





earthworks-road-drainage.jpg
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earthworks road drainage water diversion
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earthworks road drainage water diversion highlighted
 
paul wheaton
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In this image there are 4 things to point out so i numbered them on the image.   But I need to talk about the general mission.   To the left edge you can see a corner of the shop/classroom/auditorium.  When we arrived, drainage was a little weird around this structure.   The hill ran right up to it.  And then we added the bermshed which made water want to make a lake in the berm shed - typically not good for stuff in the berm shed. 

In the first year, we added the road (4) by cutting into the hillside.  And then we added the road where "1" and "2" are.   But we did a quick road and it dropped really low, really fast. 

1: cut this down about 12 inches.  This meant cutting into a lot of rock.  Did this with the back blade and the bucket on the tractor. 

2:  add a lot of fill here to make the road be a more gradual slope.

3:  woman for scale (hi jocelyn!).

4:  all the water that comes down this road that used to go out onto the county road is now diverted to head to the back of arrakis via this much lower road.
earthworks-road-drainage-2.jpg
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earthworks road drainage water shallow slope
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earthworks road drainage water shallow slope highlighted
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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On this image you can see that the right side of the road is a little lower than the left side of the road.  So the water will collect over there and not threaten the berm shed or the shop.  You will also notice that the slope seems so gradual that it will be barely noticeable.  This is due to a LOT of fill that i pulled from arrakis.

earthworks-road-drainage-3.jpg
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paul wheaton
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You can see the berm shed on the left.  The ground level in the berm shed is now MUCH lower than the ground level that you see on this side of the berm shed. 

When I first started with the berm shed, I thought we would have to add several drainage pipes to keep the water out.  But once the berm shed build was underway, I had the idea of instead shifting the drainage away from the bermshed to go go to the road to the right - which at the time was about 18 inches taller than it is now.   It would seem that pretty much everybody thought it was a terrible idea.   Last year, Fred did about 98% of the earthworks with just the tractor.  I think he did a great job.  There is a wire to the shop that had to be lowered.  And there was a pipe that we laid a foot or two deep that had to be taken out. 

Last fall and this spring it was clear that the earthworks needed some fine tuning.  Huge mud puddles formed - and mud puddles are a sign of poor earthworks.   But last year's efforts were to get some quick solutions.   So this year we took the earthworks up to 100%.   We've since had some small rain events - but I would like to see how these earthworks handle a real gully washer! 

The important points with this pic:  the road to the right was lowered 18 inches.   This year I lowered the right edge another six inches. 

We need a relatively level work surface here.  We need to be able to drive to the shop and back to arrakis with large trucks and trailers.  We need the water to drain from the left side to the right side.  We need the water to drain freely off of the cement apron. 

All of this was done 100% by eyeballing.  No levels of any kind were ever deployed - and they are just a few steps away in the shop.   The next big rain will tell us if we made any mistakes and we can probably correct all mistakes with a shovel.

I should also mention that all of the earthworks work last year and this year was done entirely with the tractor and hand tools (shovels, rakes, pick-ax).  In fact, this is a good time to point out that i think we all talked fairly regularly about trying to keep diesel usage low on this project.  There just gets to be a time when some things can be done faster with a hand shovel than by using a tractor.
earthworks-shop-drainage-1.jpg
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paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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This picture is taken from the berm shed.  The purple line is the important thing I want you to see.  This is the critical low spot for drainage.   This is one of the big features added this year.  This ground is compacted sand and gravel - so it wasn't as hard to dig as the solid rock, but it still took some digging with the tractor.

The biggest point I want to make is that in the end I think this solution is 20 times better than a solution with pipes and drainage.  Pipes plug up.  And pipes are typically plastic.   I would much rather use earthworks than pipes for good drainage.   If there wasn't buried stuff to deal with, I think this solution would have been faster and cheaper than the pipes solution.  As is, with the buried stuff to sort out, I think the total time spent was about 30% greater, but the materials cost was zero.   Even the diesel for the tractor probably ended up at less than 10% of the materials cost for pipe drains.

And the last point:  I think there were seven different people I tried to describe this plan to and this description fell flat.   Fred is always awesome - his position was that he didn't fully understand it, but he was willing to give it a try and he figured it was start to make sense later.  Thanks Fred for having a bit of faith in the crazy in my head! 

I'm sure that 99.9% of the people standing on this won't notice a thing about it.  And if any of this is pointed out to them it will seem simple and obvious.   In hindsight, I should have taken pictures and video from the beginning. 
earthworks-berm-shed-drainage.jpg
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earthworks berm shed drainage
earthworks-berm-shed-drainage-b.jpg
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earthworks berm shed drainage highlighted
 
paul wheaton
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One more note:  this was an iterative design.  Or maybe I should say:  this is an iterative design.   Each step was a bit more added here and there to meet other requirements.  As time passes, there will continue to be new iterations and new things added.   Last year was broad strokes and this year was fine tuning.   I'm saying this because a lot of people feel certain that you need a design, on paper or with sketchup, and you need to get out the laser levels.  Instead, we worked toward a goal and then learned more about what we wanted and did some more.   More evolutionary than revolutionary.

 
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I had a similar project last year. It involved building a heavy haul road up a steep 9.82% grade. It does not look it, nor does an almost 10% grade sound like much, but this is the maximum slope that logging trucks can handle so it is pretty darn steep.

I got a government grant to do this work, so my project had to have the USDA-NRCS Engineer involved. She was great, but insisted I needed road fabric installed. I hate the stuff...its [plastic...give me rocks any day, not to mention I have seen their engineered roads and have seen mine. So anyway I go as far as I can before putting in the dreaded road fabric and she comes by to check out the status. She sees the sub-base I put in and she was like, "well if I knew you were going to do this, I would have agreed you did not need fabric." It was crazy because I had plans, a chart, even a scale model showing what I was going to do.

She did make me put in rock check dams, as well as water bars, and I scoffed at first. I was going to grade them out, but after seeing how much water they diverted into the swales, I decided to keep them. They work wonderfully.

I built this road with a 25 hp tractor and a trailer. I have a gravel pit so that helped, but the pay out for the grant was $9,200 and it cost me about $50 in fuel to get the job done.

People think these kinds of projects are outside the scope of the equipment that they have, but it is just not true. I only have a 1 cubic yard dumpwagon, yet my wife and I figured out that if we move (10) 1 cubic yard loads, we could move the 350 cubic yards of gravel needed in 35 days time...so that is what we did. How do you eat an elephant...one bite at a time.

Close-Up-Dirt-Road.jpg
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Posts: 571
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Nice jobs
 
Posts: 65
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looks good!  thanks for sharing trials and experiences, as always!  (and "hi jocelyn" from me, too!)

a farm i visited used conveyor belts for diversion.  after several years in place, it was working well. 
FWIW, (if i can attach a pdf file?, it's attached.  if it doesn't work, here's a link)
https://www.dirtandgravel.psu.edu/general-resources/informational-and-technical-bulletins , scroll down to 'surface drainage')

Filename: TB_Conveyor_Belt_Diversion-1.pdf
Description: fact sheet re: conveyor belt diversion
File size: 273 Kbytes
 
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Hmmmm elephant. A long journey starts with a single step and lots of farming tasks are repetative over periods of time to compensate for undersized equipment and workforces.
 
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I plant bamboo to prevent erosion whenever an earthworks project lends itself to it.  The dense rhizome network that develops holds the soil in place and prevents it from slipping.  The close spaced canes act as a screen to strain and trap debris being carried by the water flows,  so it accumulates the leaves, sticks, etc and builds soil under the bamboo grove. Bamboo rhizomes won't cross a regularly used gravel drive since the traffic compacts the soil under the drive keeps the rhizomes from penetrating so the bamboo won't grow out onto the road.
 
Mike Turner
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8 years ago we got one of those "floods of a century" that dumped 14" of rain on our property in a 4 hour period, with most of it arriving in a 2 hour period.  It flushed all of the leaf litter out of the forests, leaving the strange sight of leafless bare red clay under the trees.  Clogged up field fencing passing through low lying areas with leaves/sticks and knocking them flat. Empty blue plastic livestock mineral tubs were floated downhill until they filled with enough rain water to anchor them in place.  The water flow overwhelmed the spillway of the dam on my 2 acre lake, which filled with the detritus washed out of the surrounding forests, and overtopped the earthen dam.  I had the dam covered with a smallish (12' high) bamboo, so when the waters flowed over the dam, the dam gained material through the sieving effects of the bamboo.  The next dam below mine, owned by a neighbor and covered with grass, was overtopped and washed out by the floodwaters.  The low spot of my driveway, made with filldirt and planted with a tall bamboo, was also unaffected by the 3 foot deep floodwaters rushing over it.
 
John C Daley
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Now that is a flood.
One tip with fencing, if its across a flood zone, fit the wire to the down side of the posts. IE flood waters can swing fence up rather than flatten the posts.
Also don't tie the fence other than at the top so it can swing up and away allowing flood debris past.
It works well here.
 
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Wow, road grants. Wish my government was progressive like that. Up here trucks run over streams and brooks without recourse because the vast majority cannot afford these important  repairs.
 
Travis Johnson
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Michael Adams wrote:Wow, road grants. Wish my government was progressive like that. Up here trucks run over streams and brooks without recourse because the vast majority cannot afford these important  repairs.



Back in the 1970's things got interesting, farmers were either going to be mandated to do environmental laws. Farmers rightfully said they could not afford it, so the government came up with a compromise something called the Environmental Quality Incentetive Program; EQUIP for short. Basically the USDA-NRCS determines if the area is in need of environmental conservation, ranks it, then awards the contract. The pay out is based on what it would cost the government to do the job, somtimes based on linear feet, square feet, acreage, etc. The split is 75% government and 25% farmer, or if the farmer is low income or a beginner farmer 90% government and 10% farmer.

IF the farmer can do the job, and meet the specifications (and they are exacting), they can reduce their costs, in my case using my own gravel pit to build the road. My gravel had to meet Federal Specs, but that saved me from buying gravel. But the payout is the same. It can be a two way street...if you can meet specs and come in under budget, the farmer gets to keep the extra money, BUT if the farmer spends more than he gets in order to meet the specs of the job, then they lose money. Still there is a financial aspect to do the right thing.

There is 6 pages of approved practices for EQUIP. From fencing to swales, to roads to "covered heavy use areas with end walls"...also known as barns to farmers...can be covered. What gets covered depends on where the farm is. My farm is large in acreage so naturally its impact on the environment is bigger. I also cross into two watersheds, with one being really polluted, so I have gotten more EQUIP grants than some. I am 19th on the list in my town though, so there are many farmers who use more grant money then me.

But overall my farm has greatly improved because of this program. Roads, rotational grazing, fencing, swales, critical habitat, heavy use areas...there is not enough profit in sheep farming to do all this, yet slowly my farm has progressed. Now that we are using our farm for a yearly concert hosting between 1000-3000 people, it showcases what good environmental stewardship can look like.
 
Mike Turner
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John C Daley wrote:Now that is a flood.
One tip with fencing, if its across a flood zone, fit the wire to the down side of the posts. IE flood waters can swing fence up rather than flatten the posts.
Also don't tie the fence other than at the top so it can swing up and away allowing flood debris past.
It works well here.



I'm afraid that wouldn't work here. I place the fence on the side that has the greatest livestock pressure placed upon it.  Also i am trying to keep coyotes and feral dogs out of my sheep pastures.  A loose bottom to the fence extends an easy invitation for them to push it out of the way and enter, or for the guardian dogs to push their way out. But for non-livestock fencing your method would work short of a big log being driven into the fence by the floodwaters, which applied the coup de gras to the fence by my lake's spillway.
 
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