City debuts ‘Muddy Water Blues’ to reduce construction impact

To build apartments and shopping centers, developers first have to peel back the top layer of soil and vegetation to level the ground. The way they manage this vulnerable land can be critical.

Runoff from sites with bare soil exposed, whether from construction sites or tilled farm fields, can wreak significant havoc on stream ecosystems, according to Matt Powell, the environmental manager for the city of Bowling Green.

“The No. 1 reason a stream is (degraded) is sediment from construction runoff,” Powell said.

But there are methods to prevent this pollution. That’s why the city, Warren County, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 3 and the Southeast Chapter of International Erosion Control Association partnered to debut the Muddy Water Blues, a two-day conference designed to help stormwater and construction professionals understand the latest science, regulations and practices that protect waterways.

There were about 125 people from across Kentucky and the Southeast attending the conference, which was divided into educational sessions and an excursion to The Hub on Lovers Lane in Bowling Green.

At The Hub, a 103-acre residential and commercial development, experts demonstrated how to implement the best management practices to prevent or reduce erosion and runoff.

The fan favorite was a demonstration of polyacrylamide, which is a type of chemical that helps reduce soil detachment, maintain the soil’s structure and turns “muddy” water clear.

Before the Clean Water Act, it was like the “wild west” when it came to erosion control at construction sites, according to Jim Sandherr, the national sales manager for Mat Inc., which sells quality erosion control products.

“The Clean Water Act changed everything,” Sandherr said.

Today, there are methods and products to help reduce the environmental impacts of construction. Although Sandherr has been working in erosion control for decades, he recognizes that there will always be new people in the field and expressed appreciation for the conference’s ability to deliver both essential and new information.

“That’s why we’re all here today, to learn more,” he said.

With the recent Waters of the U.S. repeal, many people in the industry, including Sandherr, face uncertainty. He hopes cities and states will continue to enforce waterway protections, as “there’s always somebody that’s going to be cheap,” he said.
Patrick Holubetz, an erosion and sediment control expert, also presented Wednesday on the importance of mixing organic matter and beneficial bacteria to jump-start the nutrient cycle to recreate topsoil at construction sites.

“Ultimately, erosion control will come from sustainable vegetation,” Holubetz said.

Holland Excavating, the contractor completing the groundwork for the Hub development, opened up the site for learning and to showcase some of its own measures. The groundwork is about 75 percent complete, according to Jim Ed Holland of Holland Excavating, who attended both days of the conference.

“Some of it is review,” Holland said, “but I learned a lot.”

City officials haven’t decided whether they’ll do it again next year, but they hope to make it a regular event.

“It’s been so successful, we’d be remiss to not try and do it again next year,” Powell said. “Everybody seems real tickled with it.”

Muddy Water Blues

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