Roadside ditches collect a wide range of pollutants from fecal coliform bacteria to petroleum hydrocarbons to heavy metals from roads, parking lots and construction sites.  Unvegetated roadside ditches erode and are sources of sediment.  Sediment continues to be the #1 pollutant by volume in Ohio’s streams and rivers. Unvegetated roadside ditch side slopes and bottoms contribute tons of sediment annually to local receiving streams.  Most erosion occurs during large storm events that produce high flows within roadside ditches.  Pollutants attach themselves to sediments and are transported throughout the watershed, degrading the water quality of receiving streams, rivers and ultimately Lake Erie.

Roadway departments challenged by the need to control flooding and provide for motorist safety are often confronted with how to best stabilize exposed soils within roadside ditches in a cost effective manner following dredging maintenance. Soils within roadside ditches are often compacted, poorly drained and may be nutrient deficient.  These characteristics along with seasonal fluctuations in weather patterns and the fact that roadside ditches are first and foremost conveyances of stormwater runoff makes it extremely difficult to establish vegetative cover immediately following maintenance dredging operations.

In October 2011, the Chagrin River Watershed Partners, Inc. (CRWP) in collaboration with the Lake and Geauga County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Lake County Stormwater Management Department, the Lake and Geauga County Engineer, Innovative Turf Solutions and Absolute Contracting, Inc. provided training to 21 different public roadway and park districts on innovative best management practice (BMP) technologies in the following categories: (Click on each category for its corresponding fact sheet.)

A majority of the public roadway personnel represented at the October 2011 field training were township road department representatives who routinely maintain hundreds of miles of roadside ditches within the Chagrin River watershed and throughout the Northeast Ohio – Lake Erie watershed basin.

As a follow-up to this training, each of the four BMPs were installed at three demonstration sites in November 2011 and monitored into June 2012 to test ease of installation and performance. A case study of the demonstration sites, A Technical Report of the Roadside Ditch Sediment Control Project summarizes the process and includes a summary of best management practices used at the roadside ditch stabilization demonstration sites in Geauga and Lake Counties.

The late fall installation of BMPs provided additional site condition challenges to achieving a stabilized roadside ditch under non-growing conditions for a prolonged period through the winter months of Northeast Ohio.  Based mainly on visual observation, soil surface coverage, protection of seed and successful germination were achieved with hydro mulch applications containing wood fiber mulch materials, water retention polymers, tackifiers and biostimulants compared to sites receiving only paper mulch applications without water retention polymers, tackifiers or biostimulants.  The dormant season application of BMPs also provided a realistic opportunity to test winter performance of straw wattles as check dams in roadside ditches expected to remain unvegetated throughout the winter.  The straw wattles effectively dissipated high flows within the ditchline and filtered sediment through the straw material.

Products that seek to enhance BMP performance can provide critical support to the BMP implementation strategy to achieve final stabilization within roadside ditches in a timely manner and effectively reduce the tons of sediment delivered annually to local receiving streams, rivers, culverts, bridge crossings and harbors throughout the watershed. Although effective, the innovation in BMP technology does not eliminate the necessity for good site preparation, proper installation and timely maintenance of BMPs to control roadside ditch erosion.  

In October 2012, the Chardon Township Road department installed straw wattle best management practices in their roadside ditch restoration project along Pinegate Drive in Chardon Township to check or dissipate stormwater flow through the newly restored ditch to prevent erosion until vegetation is reestablished.

Best management practice demonstration and training for this project was funded in part through the Lake Erie Protection Fund, administered by the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.  The Lake Erie Protection Fund is supported by the voluntary contribution of Ohioans who purchase the “ Erie…Our Great Lake” license plate, featuring the Marblehead and Toledo Harbor Lighthouse.