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Green Building Blog

Managing Job-Site Mud

Keep the sludge off the street and out of the water

Discover several methods can you use on the job site to mitigate erosion, runoff, and pollutants.
Image Credit: Roe A. Osborn

Drive past an average construction site (even a small residential addition) after a summer rain, and the street is usually coated with mud. Gooey, sticky, dirty stuff, the mud that runs off job sites and flows into storm sewers wreaks havoc on the quality of streams, rivers, and other waterways. But beyond the dire environmental consequences of job-site runoff, it’s also rude to mire your neighbors in mud. Plus, there’s the matter of steep fines.

It’s the law

Although most municipal ordinances include punitive measures for noncompliance, all the building officials I spoke with in my research focus on prevention through builder education and support rather than coercion. But they take the job seriously enough to prosecute those who don’t cooperate. Penalties for job-site pollution range from stop-work notices to thousand-dollar-a-day fines and even criminal prosecution.

“It’s a question of influencing the construction culture,” says Terry Ullsperger, a watershed-management inspector for Lincoln, Neb., who describes himself as someone who “has been on both sides of the silt fence.” Ullsperger likens the cultural conversion effort to the famous 1960s “Don’t Be a Litterbug” campaign, which made it unthinkable to toss trash from a car window. “Builders are slowly realizing a clean job site is just good building practice,” says Ullsperger.

Similarly, Janice Lopitz of the Keep It Clean partnership in Boulder, Colo., believes that those who would never wash a paintbrush in a stream bed may not realize they are doing the same thing when rinsing paint from their brushes at the curb. When you wash on the curb, the paint enters a storm-water inlet and heads straight to the nearest stream, lake, or river. “Whatever hits the street is as…

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One Comment

  1. Ryan Magladry Ottawa, Ontario | | #1

    Great Article
    Sediment and erosion control is a major concern. Proper implementation is even more important than the plan. Being in the land development consulting world, I regularly see something as simple a silt fence installed incorrectly. It's much easier to drive stakes into the ground ever 4', than it is to excavate a small trench, drive stakes in, then manually backfill.

    For those curious, the bottom edge of a silt fence must be buried in a small trench (+/-8") and gently backfilled against. See attachment.

    What good is a silt fence if water can freely flow beneath.

    Additional useful products are overlapped straw bales in drainage swales and ditches.

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