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Erosion study under way

December 26, 2008|By PAUL NILSON, Staff Photographer
  • PAUL NILSON PHOTO Field scientist Sean Hudgens inspects the sloping test plots at an erosion control test station near Plaster City the morning of Dec. 20.|||2008_12_26_local_news_news02-4c002451523c66.03315156-news02-3.jpg
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Just out of sight from passing motorists, the California Department of Transportation is conducting a special study in the Imperial Valley.

The San Francisco-based company, URS Corp., is performing a contracted study of soil erosion control techniques for the arid deserts of the Southwest.

Twenty-four test plots stand long against the slope of the Dunaway Road exit on west Interstate 8. The slopes have been treated with binding agents to make the topsoil firm. Below, large funnels collect any water or sediment that washes down the hill and deposit it in dozens of barrels where it can be accurately measured.

The job of inspecting these test plots is generally a monthly endeavor. Water and soil collected in the basins is measured and logged and is usually insignificant. The only other visits to the station follow immediately behind the rain.

“This was a huge storm,” Sean Hudgens, a field scientist for URS Corp., said.

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During last week’s storm “each plot shed a couple hundred gallons of water,” Hudgens said. “I really didn’t expect it to make it into the overflow barrels. It’s surprising none of them looks too eroded.”

While driving in the Imperial Valley it is easy to recognize erosion on ditch banks and overpasses. It seems to reason that more effective roadways would lead to less maintenance across the region; lowering the inevitably high costs associated with California’s infrastructure, if only by pennies.

“The intention is,” Hudgens said, “we are going to find the most effective arid climate erosion control.”

This would then be applied in areas with similar climates. To consider variation within different soil types and annual precipitation, this test is being performed at two locations in the Barstow area.

For the next two years Hudgens and others will be driving to the desert to measure dirt washing away and blowing in the wind; slowly applying a little more science to the art of controlling the environment.

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