On the apparent failure of silt fences to protect freshwater ecosystems from sedimentation: A call for improvements in science, technology, training and compliance monitoring
Excessive sedimentation derived from anthropogenic activities is a main factor in habitat and biodiversity loss in freshwater ecosystems. To prevent offsite movement of soil particles, many environmental regulatory agencies mandate the use of perimeter silt fences. However, research regarding the efficiency of these devices in applied settings is lacking, and fences are often ineffective due to poor installation and maintenance. Here, we provide an overview of the current state of research regarding silt fences, address the current culture surrounding silt fence installation and maintenance, and provide several recommendations for improving the knowledge base related to silt fence effectiveness. It is clear that there is a need for integrated long-term (i.e., extending from prior to fence installation to well after fence removal) multi-disciplinary research with appropriate controls that evaluates the effectiveness of silt control fences. Through laboratory experiments, in silico modelling and field studies there are many factors that can be experimentally manipulated such as soil types (and sediment feed rate), precipitation regimes (and flow rate), season, slope, level of site disturbance, fence installation method, type of fence material, depth of toe, type and spacing of support structures, time since installation, level of inspection and maintenance, among others, that all require systematic evaluation. Doing so will inform the practice, as well as identify specific technical research needs, related to silt fence design and use. Moreover, what constitutes "proper" installation and maintenance is unclear, especially given regional- and site-level variation in precipitation, slope, and soil characteristics. Educating and empowering construction crews to be proactive in maintenance of silt fencing is needed given an apparent lack of compliance monitoring by regulatory agencies and the realities that the damage is almost instantaneous when silt fences fail. Our goal is not to dismiss silt fences as a potentially useful tool. Instead, we question the way they are currently being used and call for better science to determine what factors (in terms of fence design, installation and site-characteristics) influence effectiveness as well as better training for those that install, maintain and inspect such devices. We also encourage efforts to "look beyond the fence" to consider how silt fences can be combined with other sediment control strategies as part of an integrated sediment control program.
|Keywords||Aquatic habitat disturbance, Best practices, Geotextile, Mitigation, Sediment control|
|Journal||Journal of Environmental Management|
Cooke, S.J, Chapman, J.M., & Vermaire, J. (2015). On the apparent failure of silt fences to protect freshwater ecosystems from sedimentation: A call for improvements in science, technology, training and compliance monitoring. Journal of Environmental Management (Vol. 164, pp. 67–73). doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2015.08.033