We’ve come a long way since the use of a travois to conduct trade, as well as exploring and creating new paths to increase travel to and from populated areas. Roads have been constructed on the edges of land masses and along bodies of water for thousands of years and the reason behind why is unclear. Is it due to gradients along waterways? Or is it due to navigation along rivers and streams? Or is it simply because they were already in use on a smaller scale? Or, a favorite option to students, (D) all of the above? From the first applications for wider roads to handle larger transportation of goods to the current construction of more functional roads, sedimentation, erosion, durability, and efficiency haven’t always been considered. Yet, roads contribute to a large amount of sedimentation and runoff that pollute our waterways and harm fisheries and other aquatic habitats. This pollution, whether it is from soils, contaminants, or metals, has negative effects on our water resources. Yet, we need roads, they are vital to human life, that is until we can master the quantum properties of particles and finally utter the words “beam me up, Scotty.” So until then, how can we reduce the impacts from roads?
Some steps that can be considered to protect our water ways from road runoff is to properly maintain and armor culvert inlets and outlets. Take steps to fix encroaching on unstable slopes where roads parallel streams and on a larger scale, make sure proper and effective drainage is in place and use sediment fabric or other means to minimize sedimentation into streams during road maintenance. To avoid the harm done to fisheries and water quality new and/or repaired roads “should be designed to reduce the potential for sediment delivery” (Conservation Districts Bureau, 2.6). The Montana Department of Transportation battles these types of questions every day. They have to consider road gradients, proper drainage, filter zones, and vegetated swales. On top of that they also need to consider harm to wildlife and then implement plans to reduce any and all harm done all within a short period of time.
The Lewis & Clark Conservation District provides permits to assists with culverts, bridges, fords (not common), and technical recommendations for plantings next to a road to help keep weeds to a minimum and riparian vegetation strong and healthy to reduce runoff loads and stabilize streambanks. If you have any questions or concerns please contact the Lewis & Clark Conservation District.