5 Steps for Erosion Control on Steep Slopes and Embankments

For the most part, soil will stay put. However, on steep slopes and embankments, there is the elevated risk of erosion. It is essential to put as much effort as possible into actions that will stop the soil from washing away.  This is because not only could this make the area that has been eroded barren, but it could also adversely affect water supply and introduce pollutants. Additionally, it could take decades to rebuild even the initial layer of topsoil, so it essential to have some insight on how to keep topsoil in place.

There are many methods that could be used to help prevent or stop erosion on steep slopes, some of which are listed below.

Plant Grass and Shrubs

slopeGrass and shrubs are very effective at stopping soil erosion. This is primarily because plant roots tend to hold soil together, making it harder to erode. The leaves of the plants also help to reduce the velocity of raindrops falling on the ground, making it harder for them to dislodge the soil and erode it. Ornamental grass and low, spreading shrubs work best as they leave no areas of bare soil exposed to the elements.

Use Erosion Control Blankets to Add Vegetation to Slopes

There are many varieties of fiber, biodegradable, and compost blankets/mats on the market today, and they have all been designed with one aim; to minimize the effects of water erosion on slopes and embankments. Rolled mats are usually made from mulch that is held together by a fiber mesh. They degrade slowly, allowing vegetation that may have been grown in the area to grow and take over the job of protecting the soil from erosion when the mats have finally degraded completely.  Compost erosion control blankets act similarly to mulch products but provide organic nutrients that promote vegetation growth, even in areas where germination, moisture management and irrigation could be challenging.

Build Terraces

Cascadia Wall Rexford Place ProjectIf you are planning on trying to control the erosion on very steep slopes or embankments, sometimes planting vegetation may just not cut it as the slope may be too steep to support anything other than the hardiest grass due to the rapid rate of erosion. If this is the case, you should consider building terraces to help slow down erosion as the vegetation takes hold. Terraces can be made out of anything, from wood to concrete blocks to bio-mechanical solutions like the Cascadia Green Wall that uses Filter Soxx with natural mulch/seed filling and geogrid for structural stability. The beds that are created by the terraces can then be used to plant vegetation such as ornamental plants or grass.

Create Diversions to Help Drainage

Depending on the incline of the slope or embankment, one of the most effective ways to help prevent erosion is to create diversions which will channel excess water down the slope along a predetermined path. One of the simplest ways to do this is to create open ditches or drains by simply digging along the slope at regular intervals. Use of pipes and gutters is also very effective, and work just as well as natural drains when designed and installed properly.

Talk to our specialists about a specific erosion challenge

Erosion Control on Steep Slopes and Embankments

Erosion Control

As land development happens in hilly countryside, more erosion control on steep slopes and embankments is needed. Especially in areas that experience heavy rainfall. Steep slopes and embankments that have no vegetation or cover are especially vulnerable to erosion issues. Erosion can cause damage to not only the landscape, but any infrastructure surrounding the project.  It is important to protect the hillside from erosion during and after the project is complete. 

Erosion is basically the displacement of soil from one area to another. On steep slopes and embankments erosion is caused primarily by water, especially by heavy rainfall. Rain that falls onto the exposed ground dislodges soil particles which are then carried away down the slope by the flowing water. However, it is the resulting destabilization of slope that creates an even greater danger as rocks and trees roots become exposed.

There are several ways of controlling erosion on steep slopes and embankments.

Ecoblanket Over Rip-rapNatural Solutions

The most effective, natural way to control soil erosion on steep slopes and embankments is to plant vegetation. Not only will the grass, fescue and leaves help to slow down raindrops as they fall, the roots of the plants will also help to hold the soil together, making it harder for water to wash it away.

However, when planting vegetation on a slope to stop erosion, you need to keep in mind that what you’re planting is just as important as the planting. Though grasses can create a groundcover that can absorb some moisture, they have less effective storm water filtration ability compared to native ground cover.  Various typical erosion control seed specifications are available as well as custom seed blends to mimic the native grasses in the area.

Artificial Solutionsgeo-grid31

Other than planting vegetation, there are also a variety of artificial solutions you can use. For instance, the use of geomats has become popular over the last few years. Geomats are water permeable polymers that are used to help fix soil elements, grass and small plant roots, and have been shown to work extremely well, especially on barren slopes that have no vegetation. There are even biodegradable geomats that are now being produced that are designed to prevent erosion and give freshly planted vegetation a chance to grow.


Building Terraces

Sustainable Development - Cascadia Green Wall SystemBuilding terraces is also another way to help prevent soil erosion. When most people think of terraces as a method of erosion control, some may think of the incas in Peru. There the natives implemented the early methods of erosion control on the Andes mountains for many centuries. Terrace walls help to hold soil in place while providing a convenient surface to plant a variety of plants. Building terraces can be as simple as using a couple of wooden blocks to create a terrace wall, or it could be more sophisticated and involve the use of engineered stones, concrete retaining wall blocks or a living green wall solution.


Soil Composition Enhancement

You could also control erosion by controlling the soil itself. As heavy rain tends to be the biggest culprit for soil erosion on slopes and embankments, by controlling the composition of the soil, you specialty soilscould control the effect that water has on it and therefore the likelihood that it will be eroded. Soil that is high in organic material tends to absorb more water, therefore, using organic material such as compost, aged mulch, or a manure can go a long way in preventing soil erosion.


The best solution (or multiple solutions) is best determined by evaluating each slope individually.


Best Erosion Control Practices

Best Erosion Control Practices

With any kind of construction, you are bound to face challenges with controlling erosion and the deposit of sediments. The possibility of erosion is elevated by changes being made to the environment of the site.  Water runoff contributes to the deposit of sediments and increased pollutants. These negative environmental impacts can all be kept at bay if a few Best Management Practices are implemented at the right time. We’ve outlined these best erosion control practices below for your reference.


Consider Unique Site Attributes

First you must carefully assess the site that you are working on, as every site is unique. Everything from the intensity, duration, and frequency of rainfall  needs to be considered, as does the local geography and landscape. Sites that are on a slope or an incline will be more prone to erosion.  The type of soil that the site is on must also be assessed.  If the site is on soil that is very easy to erode, more drastic steps may have to be taken to reduce or stop erosion.


Develop a Project Plan

Once the site has been assessed, you can develop your erosion control plan.   Taking care especially when it comes to the order in which different tasks are carried out.  For instance, if you are carrying out construction over a wide area, you can begin excavating areas of the site in sections.  Systematically move through different areas using a predetermined route, rather than disturbing the whole site.   This will help reduce the amount of land that is left exposed for long periods, thereby decreasing erosion. 

erosion-and-sediment-control best practices

Managing Water Flow

Controlling water on your site will also be very important. The construction of dikes and ditches to control the flow of water is prudent, especially when they are constructed at the top and bottom of slopes and embankments. Constructing temporary slope drains will also help in mitigating the effects of erosion, especially when these are constructed in cut/fill transitions and steep slopes around the site.

Sediment that runs off a construction site can cause damage to the environment if it ends up in the wrong place, especially if it ends up in water ways surrounding the site. This could upset the ecosystem. Constructing silt fences and sediment traps will go a long way to preventing potential damage to the environment during to construction. Sediment controls should be constructed around the perimeter of the site, at the entrances and exits to the site, and at water inlets and outlets.

Managing Water Pollution

Reducing water pollution caused by erosion and sediment should be a high priority on site. This involves ensuring that a construction site near a water way has the proper erosion and sediment controls in place. If there is to be excavation then it is important to prevent erosion and sediment loss.  Prior to the beginning of construction you can put filter sock in place around the edge of the water way. This will protect the water from any heavy sediment run off throughout construction.  

Stabilization of soil, on site, after construction may also be necessary.  One of the best ways to ensure that you maintain good soil stability is by protecting the existing vegetation that is on the site, including trees, shrubs and forbs. Areas where there is no longer any vegetation can be treated with a seeded compost erosion control blanket – controlling erosion and re-vegetating the area in one step.


In order to best address erosion and sediment controls, it is necessary to first, asses your site. Second, you must develop a project plan.  Finally, implement your plan by managing water flow, using  engineered structures and protecting the natural vegetation, thus reducing water pollution.

Overwhelming? We recommend partnering with an Environmental Consultant who is familiar with the Erosion and Sediment Control bylaws in the municipality where the project is located.  eg: City of Surrey bylaws

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