Friday, March 29, 2013

What to consider: Culverts

Poorly installed and improperly designed culverts can lead to excessive erosion, damage to streams, high maintenance costs, and road failure.  In order to prevent these issues it is important to consider culvert type, diameter, length, and location.

Excessive sedimentation from a poorly planned culvert

There are two types of culverts: stream crossings and cross drains.  The first type, a stream crossing culvert, is generally placed in a location where a permanent stream crossing may be necessary, since it is often too costly both economically and ecologically to remove. These culverts allow both stream flow and aquatic wildlife to pass underneath the road.  The second type, cross drains, are used to transport upland runoff, accumulated in road ditches on the upland side of the roadway to the lower end where both flow volume and velocity can be dissipated.

Mouth of a cross drain culvert
Culvert diameter is determined by both the soil type on the site, how steep the site is, and the acreage of the watershed that the culvert drains.  Taking into consideration these factors ensures that the culvert is sizable enough to handle the maximum volume of water that it may encounter.

Culvert size chart from page 51 of the Texas Forestry Best Management Practices Handbook 
Culvert length is dictated by how wide the road is.  Culverts should be long enough so that each end extends at least one foot beyond the edge of the fill on either side.

Culvert location is paramount in dictating the longevity of the culvert.  In stream crossings, culverts should be placed in a section of stream where the channel is straight and the stream bed is firm.  Cross drain culverts should be spaced out depending on slope.  Cross drain culvert spacing can be determined using the following formula:

Culvert spacing = (400'/slope%)+100
         *Slope in percent is expressed as a whole number (i.e. 15%=15)
            Example: Spacing = (400'/15)+100'
                          Spacing= 127'

In addition to factoring in culvert specifications, it is also extremely important to factor in current weather conditions and trends.  Culvert installation should be done when stream flows and chance of rain are low.  Ideally, the entire installation process should be completed before a rain event.

UP NEXT:  Installing your culvert

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 Texas Wildlife and Woodland Expo

On Saturday thousands of visitors descended on the Lone Star College-Montgomery Campus in Conroe to learn about the forests of the region in which they live and how to best take care of it through hands on clinics, information booths, live demonstrations, and children's activities.  Attendees ranged from urban homeowners to rural landowners, boy scouts, girl scouts, outdoor enthusiasts and everyone in between.
Donna Work explains the importance of streamside management zones using the SMZ simulator
Hughes Simpson discusses benthic samples with visitors
The Water Resources program was on hand to answer questions related to water resources and provide information on forestry BMPs.  Donna Work, Hughes Simpson, and Todd Thomas handed out information and discussed BMPs and the forest-water relationship to any interested patrons of the event.  A demonstration was on hand to illustrate the importance of maintaining Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) complete with rainfall and runoff simulation.

Todd Thomas talks BMPs with expo enthusiasts 

SFA Students Experience BMPs Firsthand

Last week, 46 students enrolled in ecology at Stephen F. Austin State University were able to view various Texas forestry best management practices (BMPs) implemented on the ground in northeast Nacogdoches County.  In addition to viewing methods of erosion control in forestry operations, the students learned about various facets of the program including the effectiveness monitoring project.  While learning about the BMP effectiveness project, the students were able to view equipment used to sample benthic organisms, as well as some organisms that were living in the creek running through the tract.
Biologist Donna Work discusses benthic macroinvertebrates 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 2013 BMP Q&A

By: Todd Thomas, Water Resources Forester, Texas A&M Forest Service

Q:  I was looking at a Texas BMP compliance monitoring checklist and in the comments section, it mentioned “below grade roads”.  I have heard this term mentioned before, but I have never been quite sure what a below grade road is and what exactly can I do about them?

A: I am glad you asked this.  A road that is below grade is one that is lower than the surrounding land.  Many of the roads in East Texas are very old and can be classified as below grade. 

Below grade roads usually occur after years of being worked and graded without any new material brought in to build them up, or from just being worked from one direction, to the point that the road essentially becomes a channel for runoff water.  As you may remember, with BMPs we are trying to keep from channelizing any runoff.  When runoff is channeled it begins to accelerate, especially in areas with a great deal of topography.  This accelerated runoff will increase erosion and the amount of sediment that reaches our streams. 

The issue of below grade roads is not limited to areas with rolling terrain or steep topography, below grade roads can create significant problems in flatwoods as well.  The issue isn’t so much a concern with water quality, but with access.  Water will always flow to the lowest spot on a site, and if this happens to be the roadway, then the water will not properly drain.  The road will then become saturated, and stay wet for most of the year.  Wet roads can lead to poor access, and cause severe rutting if traveled. 

These situations can develop gradually over time if roads are not properly constructed or may occur when subjected to heavy rains.  The formation of these areas can also result from trying to access a wet road by cutting it down until a dry surface is reached.  While this might be a temporary solution to an access problem, it can lead to erosion problems. 

To fix or reduce the severity of these problems, the first thing you need to decide is if the road in question will function as a temporary or permanent road.  This can be dictated by the amount of traffic your road will handle in the near future.  High traffic zones will generally be more expensive to control than low traffic zones.   If the road is not necessary then it should be closed.  In order for the road to stay in use the surface will need to be built up and water control structures will need to be put into place.  The type of structure will be dictated by the traffic type.  

There are several effective ways to reduce the impact to water quality on below grade roads.  It is best to make sure that the roadway is well drained when dealing with permanent systems located on steep topography.  Installing waterbars with good outlets for the water is recommended.  Instead of using the dirt in the roadway to build these structures, try incorporating some of the bank dirt.  This will allow you to construct a waterbar and at the same time make it easier to divert the water. 

When dealing with temporary roads, revegetating is a great option to hold the soil in place and minimize the amount of erosion and sedimentation that may occur.  A more cost efficient way to hold temporary roads in place is to distribute fine slash on the roadbed.  If you have any questions about BMPs, please do not hesitate to contact me at (936) 639-8180 or email me at  

*This article was published in the March 2013 edition of the Texas Logger