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Erosion Control Offers a Natural Way for Landscape Architects to Grow

International Erosion Control Association

Whether you're an idealist seeking to save the world or a more pragmatic type looking for solid professional growth opportunities, the field of erosion control deserves your attention. It offers Landscape Architects the potential to satisfy both ambitions better than many career paths.

The whole idea of controlling erosion is, after all, nothing less than to save the thin, fragile layer of soil upon which all plant and animal life depends. At the same time, the federal Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, the Environmental Protection Agency's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and other federal, state and local rules and regulations are increasing the demand for professionals who know how to keep soil from washing or blowing away and polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The field of erosion control involves a wide range of skills - from engineers who study the movement of soil, and chemists who develop polymers used to hold hydraulic mulches on hillsides, to the people who design and install measures to protect construction sites from erosion. The talents and abilities of Landscape Architects cover a broader range of expertise needed to control erosion than any other single discipline.

Plant materials provide the ultimate in permanent, cost-effective control of soil erosion. The leaves of trees, shrubs and grasses absorb the force of wind and falling rain, shielding soil from the erosive impact of storms. Meanwhile, their roots help hold soil particles firmly in place. In many cases, plant materials offer a natural way to satisfy the public's increasing demand for environmentally friendly methods of protecting air and water quality. Who better than Landscape Architects - who understand and appreciate the role of plant materials in nature and their requirements - to work with them?

Landscape Architects also understand engineering concepts and building practices required to manage soils, stormwater and wind at construction sites and to minimize erosion and transport of sediment downwind or downstream. What's more, Landscape Architects have the mind and the eye to design erosion and sediment control measures that add beauty and function to the world around us.

One emerging growth opportunity for Landscape Architects in erosion control is soil bioengineering - using live plant materials to produce living structures, like a willow-stabilized urban streambank, that controls erosion in a more natural, less costly manner than traditional engineering materials, such as riprap, concrete and steel.

"Bioengineering is landscape architecture," says Landscape Architect Tom Freeman, CDF Landscape, Couer D'Alene, Idaho. A Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control (CPESC), Freeman has met rigorous education requirements and has demonstrated expertise in erosion and sediment control planning. He's been involved with erosion control since starting his design/build firm 11 years ago. "Despite the term bioengineering, it's one area of erosion control where Landscape Architects have the edge," he says.

Landscape Architect's experience in using vegetation as both a decorative and structural material make them the natural choice for completing erosion control projects.

"Opportunities for Landscape Architects in erosion control are excellent," says Freeman. "Many more doors would probably open for us if we were landscape engineers. As Landscape Architects we crunch numbers like engineers. But, we also know you can't put numbers to plant materials all the time. We know how to use plants to make soil stay put."

Freeman has been a member of the International Erosion Control Association since 1994. The non-profit organization provides a wide range of information and educational courses for people around the world involved with preventing and controlling erosion. This includes professional development courses held at various locations around the country and the bimonthly Erosion Control journal. The organization also holds an Annual Conference & Expo that attracts leading erosion control professionals from around the globe and features the largest and latest display of erosion control products and services in the world.

"IECA is the best trade organization I know of," he says. "Members are open to sharing their ideas to achieve the common goal of controlling erosion. At the first annual conference I attended, I had dinner with several people from Europe. We talked about how they solved erosion problems. It was reassuring to hear that I was on the right track with my work." he says.

The 2001 IECA Annual Conference & Expo will be held Feb. 5-9, in Las Vegas, Nev. The activities will include day-long training courses as well as technical paper presentations, workshops, special sessions and a two-day trade show. All sessions emphasize practical applications of erosion and sediment control techniques. Points of interest to Landscape Architects will be: Erosion Control Design for the 21st Century, How to Specify and Pay for Construction Site BMPs, Biotechnical Soil Stabilization for Slopes and Streambanks and How to Analyze Streambank Erosion Problems.

As Landscape Architects rely increasingly on public works contracts for their livelihood, restoration projects that were once the exclusive province of engineers have become a subject of growing interest for the profession.

Tim Pollowy is one of many who benefits from membership in IECA. He has used his academic training - Bachelors and Masters degrees in landscape architecture - to develop a career as a restoration ecologist. More than half the projects he manages in his position with Landscape Resources, Inc., Montgomery, Ill., involve erosion control. His training in landscape architecture provided a solid foundation for his career.

"The ability to understand the many things involved in a site, like vegetation, drainage, construction techniques, land use and human impacts, is very helpful in my work," Pollowy says. "A Landscape Architect pulls all the people involved in the various areas together."

Pollowy also co-chairs an ASTM committee -- D-18.25.10 -- which is developing standards for soil bioengineering practices. He's using this approach to restore a heron rookery where erosion is destroying habitat, causing bird numbers to plunge. The Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve, in Will County, Ill., is one of the largest rookeries in the state and the only one where five species -- black crowned night heron, great blue heron, great egret, cattle egret and double crested cormorant -- breed together in colonies. This year, the annual census identified 1,200 active nest sites.

The 822-acre preserve features a 320-acre lake containing several small islands where the birds nest. However, wave action, amplified by a long fetch and combined with fluctuating lake levels, is eroding the shorelines of these islands. This is causing the trees, in which the herons nest, to topple. As a result, the nesting heron population on the east islands is one-fourth of what it was 20 years ago. The number of birds on the much more stable west islands has changed very little since then. As project manager, Pollowy is working with a wildlife biologist and an engineering firm to fix the erosion problem.

Humans are not the only creatures affected by erosion. Loss of habitat through soil erosion is a major concern on our public lands. Bird sanctuaries in particular are susceptible to changing rivers flows and siltation.

"I sit in the middle, pulling together the information they provide to develop a solution that will control the erosion and still provide the plant materials and other habitat features the birds need to survive on these islands," he explains.

His design for the project includes a soil bioengineering cross section. It features a rock toe to armor the sloping shore where water levels fluctuate and to provide good access to and from the water for young, flightless birds. Above that, erosion control measures transition to a mix of live stakes and live fascines, placed in shallow trenches which parallel the shoreline. These plant materials will grow into a living structure to protect the slopes from erosion and may provide additional nesting habitat.

"The fascines will catch any sediment moving down the slope," he explains. "They will also protect against wave action when the water gets that high."

Pollowy credits IECA with helping him improve the quality of his work. "It's a professional society that deals with many of the issues I do," he says. "It's a good organization and offers many opportunities to network with people of similar interests. IECA is one of the only forums I know of for disseminating information about technology advances in erosion control."

Pollowy, who plans to participate in the 2001 IECA Annual Conference & Expo, recalls the first conference, which he attended as an exhibitor. "I came home with more information than I took there," he says.

Another IECA member whose membership has paid off is Landscape Architect Mary Honeyman, MLA, RLA, ASLA, CPESC. She is president of Aqua-Terr, LLC, Council Grove, Kans., a company she and wildlife biologist, land management expert and certified fisheries scientist John Kelley, PhD, CPESC, formed several years ago.

Erosion control measures that use plant materials will grow into a living structure that not only protects the slope from erosion but also provides nesting habitats for young flightless birds.

Honeyman provides environmental design services for natural resources and military training land management projects. Her job is to link military land use patterns to soil erosion models to protect and conserve natural resources on U.S. Army military training lands.

The work ranges from designing landscapes on military firing ranges that provide a more realistic training environment and devising low-water crossings to support tanks and other heavy military vehicles to designing sediment control ponds and selecting native plant species to protect wetlands, threatened and endangered species and water quality in local streams. "Erosion control is a major part of what we do," she says. "I really like the wide variety of things we do to control erosion. It's really gratifying to know that, in addition to increasing training safety for soldiers and contributing to military preparedness, every project we design and implement improves the environmental quality of natural resources on the training lands."

Honeyman plans to attend IECA's 2001 Annual Conference & Expo, her fourth such event. "It's a great place to get exposure to new ideas and the latest product information," she says. "The conference presentations provide excellent resource material and the opportunity to interact with authors." For Honeyman, who originally intended to use her academic training to design residential and commercial landscapes, the direction of her subsequent career has been a rewarding one. "I never thought I'd be in business with a wildlife management/fisheries biologist," she says. "But, I couldn't be happier with the work we do."

The extensive technical information and training courses offered by IECA will become increasingly more important to Landscape Architects, notes Landscape Architect Charles Wilson, RLA, CLARB, CPESC, with KCI Technologies, Hunt Valley, Md. "As more and more Landscape Architects get into the full realm of site development they need to know how to manage stormwater and control erosion and sediment because these concerns affect the overall site design," he says. Wilson, who works in urban planning on public and private projects, estimates that erosion and sediment control and stormwater management practices occupy about half his time.

The IECA provides technical information and training courses for Landscape Architects who are interested in expanding the range of their professional abilities. The organization also provides a central network for communicating design opportunities throughout the country.

In a previous position, he worked almost exclusively in those areas. He began developing his skills in erosion and sediment control 15 years ago when his firm needed someone willing to learn them. It was a natural transition for him. "Landscape Architects develop grading plans, understand drainage patterns and know soils and plant materials," he says. "That's all part of erosion control."

Wilson is president of IECA's Mid-Atlantic Chapter. He credits IECA with helping him sharpen his erosion and sediment control skills. "IECA's annual conferences have been very beneficial and have given me insights from points of view other than I get in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region," he says. "IECA provides the opportunity to network with other designers doing the type of work I do and it keeps me informed about the latest technology. This has improved the quality of my designs by improving the quality of products that I specify." LASN

For more information about IECA and the 2001 Annual Conference & Expo scheduled for Feb 5-9 in Las Vegas contact the organization at: P.O. Box 774904, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477-4904; Ph: 970-879-3010; Fax: 970-879-8563; E-mail:; web site:

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June 18, 2019, 8:48 am PDT

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