Erosion Control: The Challenge of Living on a Hill

An extended forecast of rain causes Mr. B and me to cringe as we watch our yard slowly erode. With the help of in-house training and expert friends, we plan some remedies.

by Rachael Dupree
PHOTO: Rachael Dupree

The past few days have been glorious. Why is that, you ask? Because the three weeks prior to that brought rain, rain and nothing but rain. When your home is placed in the middle of a hill, rain can be a scary thing—not so much in the “Oh dear, my basement is going to flood” way (woohoo elevation!), but more in the “Oh dear, my yard is eroding” way.

The latter concept I have no experience with. Coming from the flat suburbs of Central Ohio, I’ve never had to take care of hilly land, let alone deal with the mess of the rain carving out a muddy creek right by my back door. When the water form the gully-washers (that’s what the local folks call sudden heavy rains) travels down from the top of the hill along the walking path from our field to our house, it gathers momentum over the compacted soil, causing problems for our yard and driveway. This is no good if we someday want a play area near the house for our little one—or, you know, maintain the structural integrity of our hills.

Thankfully, Mr. B is an engineer and has crafted an ingenious plan for diverting water at the top of the hill in a different direction down the hill. Plus, we have cool friends who do things like erosion control for a living to give us additional guidance. As we slowly work to prevent erosion problems, here are some things we plan to try.

1. French Drain

Using some PVC pipe we found under our shed, Mr. B has devised a plan for installing a French drain. He drilled holes in the downward-facing part of the pipe. We’ll dig a trench to accommodate it, and then surround the pipe with gravel. When it rains hard enough, the water will fill up in the gravel channel and enter the pipe through the holes.We’ll situate the French drain uphill from the house, nearly perpendicular to the hill, to maximize the amount of water to be intercepted and directed away from the eroding area below.

We’re still deciding whether to dig this trench by hand or rent equipment to help us, but we believe this will be huge in preventing more erosion troubles.

2. Side Channels

In the meantime, Mr. B has started digging little diversion ditches along the side of the path, perpendicular to the water flow. Our erosion-control extraordinaire recommended placing them before and after any concave areas in our walking path where water seems to pool up, hinting that water is carving a stream. As Mr. B digs these side channels, he aims to build up a small berm along the downward edge using soil or rocks to help guide the water flow.

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3. Natural Filters

In addition to our eroding yard, we have some problems along our driveway with flowing (read: gushing) water wiping out the gravel and essentially causing potholes. Unlike the water streaming down the driveway, these problems are caused by creeks that pass perpendicularly under the driveway through culverts. When a heavy rain hits, the culverts can’t always handle the volume and water flows over the top. To decrease the energy of the flow and also act as a filter to help prevent clogged culverts, our friend recommended planting shrubs or thoughtfully placing downed logs or large rocks upstream.

While Mr. B is the engineer brains behind fixing much of our erosion trouble, this is where my creativity kicks in. The University of Kentucky extension has put out a paper suggesting native species to use in buffer zones in our area. While this won’t be a buffer zone per se, I thought it would be a good place to start research into what we might add to the landscape.

Slow But Steady

Sometimes it seems like we’ve had to tackle a lot of boring problems, like erosion, before we’ve had a chance to get into the fun of farming. I have to remind myself that these projects aren’t boring at all. We’ve inserted ourselves into nature, and Mother Nature has a strong personality. Through projects like this, we get to discover how she works and how we fit into that scheme.

The land always has something to teach us. We’re not here just to conquer it—to grow our tomatoes and raise our chickens and move on—we’re here to live alongside the wilderness. It’s here to support us if we take care of it, and that’s not a process that happens in one year or five years or 25 years. It happens over the course of a lifetime. We’ll get to the magical part of farming soon enough, and when I get frustrated over the projects that seem to act as obstacles to our main goal, I remind myself that we’re in this for the long haul.

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