Nov. 22, 2012: After our week of torrential rains, it's nice to get a brief respite before the next deluge. It's also a great time to find drainage problems. Unfortunately, it's not a great time to fix drainage problems. Most drainage issues involve excavation and excavation of saturated soils cause a whole set of challenges.

There is the challenge of access. Most drainage work involves digging and that's best done by a piece of equipment such as a trencher or a mini-excavator. Getting that machinery to where it has to work without tearing up the surrounding ground is a problem. It can be done by laying out mats of plywood or rubber for the machinery to traverse, but its extra time and its extra cost.

There is also the issue of yards with fences and gates too narrow for a trencher to get through. I once installed a lawn drainage system where myself and the crew dug and wheelbarrowed 5 tons of wet clay out of the backyard through a narrow gate. I made a solemn pledge to my back never to do that again.

There is the challenge of compaction. Many drainage problems are compounded by the fact that the soil infiltration rate (how quickly water enters into and percolates through it) is impaired by compaction. On the fine silt and clay soils that we have in much of Washington County, compaction is compounded by the soil being saturated. When excavation work takes place on these saturated soils we may be doing more compaction harm than we're doing drainage good.

I'm a guy of substance, meaning I tip the scales at over 200 pounds. When I go tromping over the soil I exert a force of about 26-27 PSI (pounds per square foot). A 3000 lb. pickup truck will exert the same amount of force on the soil. No, I am not as large as a truck, but compaction pressure is a factor of weight over the area of distribution. The narrow area of impact made by my heel as I walk has the same force as the truck which distributes its weight over 4 tire points. I wear rubber boots when I'm doing drainage work, but if I wore stiletto high heels I would have a compaction force of 9000 PSI! That's one (of several) reasons I don't wear high heels on the work site.

There is the challenge of where do you take the water. When it comes to drainage there are 3 things we have to do with the water. We have to collect it, convey it and dispose of it. All three can be a challenge but the disposal is probably top on my list.

First and foremost, you cannot dispose of your excess water onto your neighbor's property. That causes lawsuits. In many municipalities, you are not allowed to dump it into the street or storm sewer system (some may require a permit). You need to find a place on-site to dispose of it. Finding a place in your yard for a rain garden or a dry well can be a challenge. In short, with excess water in the landscape you are redistributing it to another area of the landscape where it will be less of a problem. With creative drainage solutions that water might just end up being an asset rather than a liability.

Conveyance of your landscape water can be a challenge, if you have a flat site. For water to move, there has to be a slope involved. At least 2%, if we're talking about water flowing over the surface of the ground. On a flat yard, the water just sits. You either have to change the surface so you get slope or you have to create an underground slope by installing sloping drain tile. You still have to dispose of it someplace, which can be a challenge.

Perhaps you've noticed I've used the word "challenge" alot. Challenge is a wonderfully positive word to use when you really mean pain in the tukhis and that's what doing landscape drainage work in the winter is, a real . . . . challenge. But when the ground is dry, ah that's a different story! Great things can be accomplished in drainage with less cost and less destruction.

Well, like the winter rains, I have gone on and on and it's time to convey this article to a proper disposal. In short (thank God!), when the ground is wet, see whither it goes; when dry, fix whither it goes. There are many creative and sustainable solutions for drainage and I will touch on some in Part II of this soggy saga.

Keep dry.

F & P