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by Dale Finseth
It's now the middle of the summer season, i.e. it is after the 4th of July. As part of our focus on non-point source pollution, I'll discuss gravel roads. Here in Maine, and particularly in and around our lakes and ponds, we frequently need to travel on and frequently are responsible for a gravel camp road or our own gravel driveway. Those road surfaces often collect and direct runoff into our lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands.
Much of our conservation work and the work of various youth conservation corps, road associations, and watershed groups will focus on gravel road work. Gravel road erosion is a major source of sediment into our lakes and that sediment carries phosphorus in addition to other toxins: road salt, oil, and the like. Improving the way those gravel roads function is an excellent way to help protect water quality. Given all the use those roads get during the summer, an improved road both costs less money over time and makes for a much better "mud season."
Since it is now about mid-season, many roads that did not receive a "spring upgrade" are showing problems. Potholes have appeared; ruts have developed in the tire lanes; ditches may not be directing runoff into the woods and other vegetated areas. Instead, the roadway, culverts, and ditches are all working together in order to direct stormwater and the sediment into the lake.
The Kennebec SWCD focuses on Gravel Road Management/Maintenance Plans as a means to provide landowners a better understanding of how their road impacts water quality and how to manage its maintenance to minimize that impact. A good road plan also provides the landowners with information to better budget the resources they devote to their shared roadway. Those resources not only include the dues paid by landowners, but the volunteer work to maintain it.
A better maintained road can save a property from damage caused by stormwater leaving the roadway and damaging the individual's property. It is important for people to better understand how the road "works." Given the road plans written in the past few years, feedback is good. People appreciate the advantage of having a long-range plan to protect the investment they have already made in their gravel road access.
While the road plan is usually for the "shared" road which is the responsibility of the property owners, many of the recommendations and Best Management Practices can easily be modified to help the individual camp owner better manage their own driveway. We do not want to see these gravel roads simply become a means to transfer silt and phosphorus filled conduits to our waterways. Intercepting that stormwater is an excellent way to help protect water quality.
Conservation Too columns are written by staff at by the Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District in Augusta. For more information about the district and its projects, call Dale Finseth at