Road Ditch Stabilization Demonstration for Town Highway Superintendents
Yates County, NY

Grantee: Yates County Soil and Water Conservation District
Basin Program Funds: $15,000
Non-federal Funds: $20,580
Project Duration: 05/1997 - 11/1998
Status: complete

Problem Statement
Highway departments are faced with the task of designing and maintaining highways which remove water quickly to prevent flooding and ensure safe driving conditions while, at the same time, ensuring water quality is not impaired through soil erosion and/or chemical pollution trapped in eroded sediments.

Approximately 95% of Yates County drains into the Finger Lakes-Seneca, Canandaigua and Keuka Lakes which, in turn, drain into the Great Lakes basin. A 1974 U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service “Erosion and Sediment Control Inventory” estimated annual road ditch erosion in the Finger Lakes-Seneca, Canandaigua and Keuka Lakes watershed as averaging 12 to 15 tons per road ditch mile.

A New York State Department of Environmental Conservation study entitled State of the Canandaigua Lake Watershed, 1994: A Guide to Understanding and Protecting Our Vital Resources, identified 16 potential causes of nonpoint source pollution which included road bank and road ditch erosion. Road ditches designated very severe, with slopes greater than eight percent, averaged 82 tons of soil eroded per mile, while slopes designated severe, between five percent and eight percent slope, averaged 33 tons of soil eroded per mile. There are 18.1 miles of severe or very severe road ditches in Yates County draining into Canandaigua Lake. Another study using the same methodology designated an additional 26 miles of Yates County ditches draining into Keuka Lake as severe or very severe. An additional 17 miles of ditches in the Kashong Creek watershed were found in need of treatment due to erosion problems.

Most road ditch and bank problems are due to two principal causes: insufficient rights of way along county and town roads and inadequate funds to remediate the problems. 42 highway superintendents from 5 counties have been trained to recognize erosion and sediment control practices to control soil erosion when developing road management practices. The superintendents also received a supporting handbook with reference materials. The next step is to develop on site demonstrations to reinforce classroom-based knowledge.

Yates County SandWCD inventoried all moderately, severely and very severely eroding road ditches by watershed. The inventory identified 8.9 miles of severe and very severe erosion sites in the Seneca Lake watershed. Project personnel selected approximately 2,750 feet at three severe or very severe sites for stabilization and began working on the sites in July 1998. At site one project personnel reconstructed a limited use road which gave public access to the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail. Here steep road banks were stabilized by hydroseeing and mulch in anticipation of re-establishing thick vegetative cover. Sites two and three were road ditch projects which were stabilized with riprap in order to prevent costly annual reconstruction. Additionally, site two was also hydroseeded and mulched.

All three stabilized sites were subject to severe or very severe erosion. In total, a little over one-half mile or 2,750 feet of road ditch was stabilized. This amounts to a considerable saving of sediment to the Keuka Lake Outlet. Sites two and three, for instance, annually contributed an estimated 33 tons of sediment per mile before stabilization. With the completion of the project it is estimated that 41 tons of soil, 412 pound of phosphorus, and 83 pounds of nitrogen will be prevented from entering the Outlet which leads to Seneca Lake and is a classified trout stream.

There are additional benefits to this project. The road inventory will continue to be used by local communities in planning, especially those wishing to establish a road improvement plan to include road ditch stabilization. The project offers three demonstration sites which have already been viewed by highway superintendents and 15 highway personnel. The project has enhanced working relations between municipal officials and the Yates County Soil and Water Conservation District. Due to this cooperative effort, highway superintendents have contacted the Conservation District to request technical assistance on other road management problems they are experiencing.

Contact: Yates County Soil and Water Conservation District, (315) 536-5188


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