02 Nov 2014
Revegetation Opportunities During Drought
Drought: an extended period when a region receives a deficiency in its water supply, whether atmospheric, surface or ground water.
Drought as an Educator:
NASA scientists are advising that an unusual atmospheric phenomenon is occurring in which a high-pressure ridge over the western part of the U.S. essentially deflects storms northward.* Changes in temperature in the Pacific Ocean might be responsible for the high-pressure ridge. The same type of ridge was present during the 1934 drought (the worst North American drought year of the last millennium) and others, such as the one in California in 1976.
One feature of the 1934 drought that wasn’t expected this time is the severe dust storms. In the 1930s many farmers cleared native vegetation to plant crops that were not drought tolerant, leading to widespread erosion when the crops failed for lack of water. It was believed that better farming methods and wiser choice of crops would prevent those storms from happening again.
Yet dust storms are exactly what are being experienced up in the Antelope Valley farming district. The solar and wind power projects being built there are drawing the ire of local residents, but the abandonment of active farming of crops is equally to blame. Land that was converted from pristine desert to exotic grasses pasture 60 years or more ago is slowly but surely returning to a state of bare ground vulnerable to windblown sand. The current drought is again driving home the lessons learned in 1934.
As far as reclamation technologies are concerned, if plentiful rainfall works to mask many of the shortcomings of conventional seeding practices, drought serves to expose such shortcomings. Drought triggers a more acute understanding of the relative limitations of the spectrum of erosion control products at our disposal, and may spur us into broadening our education about Best Management Practices (“BMP”); for example, by attending our Western Chapter “Soil and Vegetation Management in Response to Drought”workshop on November 5 in Rancho Cordova (website link).
Take for example our industry’s Bonded Fiber Matrix (“BFM”) hydroseeding BMP. A revegetation innovation by Weyerhaeuser 15 or so years ago, Soilguard was a technological leap forward over our industry standard “2,000 lb. wood fiber mulch + 16-20-0 + light-duty tackifier”seeding BMP.
Tellingly, the innovation was developed at Weyerhaeuser’s headquarters west of the Cascade Mountain Range where 80 inches of annual rainfall is common. Soilguard ran into its first limitation as a universally-appropriate revegetation BMP when it was applied in arid desert conditions east of its moisture-rich Puget Sound birthplace. In regions where sparse rainfall or drought is the norm (i.e. much of the western U.S.), the BMP came up short as a comprehensive revegetation seeding solution.
The BFM still functions admirably as an immediate, though temporary, stabilizer of disturbed soils, and remains a vital component in ushering in new plant growth in temperate climates on soils that, despite topical disturbance, remain relatively fertile. But a BFM alone (or any of the topical mulch surface treatments) is not capable of revitalizing a drastically disturbed soil into a functioning soil community, capable of nurturing native plant growth on a sustainable basis.
In fact, in arid regions, a typical BFM load of wood/paper mulch is counter-productive to revegetation objectives. Where lack of moisture in the soil is the prime limiting factor to plant survival, the last result we wish to invite is to have whatever traces of precipitation are received be intercepted at the soil surface where it is quickly evaporated away by hot desert breeze and sun. Rather, precious moisture must infiltrate down into the soil where the roots of germinating seed can reach it.
Drought as Inspiration
Drought inspires us to sharpen our revegetation technologies to attain success where conventional seeding practices are prone to failure. Shift the focus from immediate and temporary soil stabilization alone, and move towards setting the stage for re-establishing a functioning soil community that can support sustainable plant growth in these harsh conditions. The re-establishment of plant growth has always been the gold standard for long-term erosion control.
We’ve all heard how rugged native plant species are, oftentimes with the attendant cautionary advice that such native plant species are nonetheless difficult-to-impossible to grow from seed. The presumption is that native plants should be germinated and nurtured in the nursery, and then planted out as a seedling. However, anyone who spent time reviewing the data contained in the 2010 Revegetation Guidance Document for Erosion Control Projects in the Tahoe Basin prepared for the California Tahoe Conservancy by AECOM would be inclined to reject this planting protocol, based upon the low survival rate of such plants over the long term, at least in the harsh Tahoe Basin. If not from seed, and not from live plantings, how does the revegetation professional successfully restore plant growth in harsh and drought environments?
Start with the soil. This realization is critical. While average or abundant rainfall can mask soil deficiencies, drought exposes them, and inspires erosion control practitioners to seek long term solutions in the soil.
Drought and Soil Vitality:
Practitioners who are consistently successful at re-establishing native plant growth on sterile, drastically disturbed soils pursue both seeding and planting strategies. They implement these dual revegetation BMPs with an eye to re-establishing a functioning soil community in the upper levels of their seedbed soil.
First, minimize the disturbance that is caused to the soil in your project. In reclamation, there is much truth to the adage “You don’t know the value of what you’ve got, until you lose it”.
Second, obtain an understanding of the true plant growth challenges in the site-specific soils that confront you. Cookie-cutter seeding amendment recipes that pay scant attention to soil conditions are prone to failure. A comprehensive soil analysis and an expert interpretation of that soil analysis, is in order.
Third, many challenging soil situations share similar deficiencies that, in varying degrees, require attention:
- A requirement to re-build stable soil humus in the soil, a critical component of a soil’s organic matter;
- A requirement to insert minerals to address whatever mineral imbalances exist in the soil;
- A requirement to take advantage of soil biostimulants to biologically improve soil structure, moisture and nutrient availability to the plant, and assist in the development and establishment of mycorrhizal fungal colonization.
Learn more about establishing erosion control and vegetation in drought conditions. There are plenty of opportunities to put our expertise to work during a drought. We look forward to seeing you in Rancho Cordova, CA on November 5.
* October 18, 2014, Geophysical Research Letters
24 Sep 2014
S.O.S – 250 Facebook Votes to Save Our Soil
Please vote for Quattro Environmental, Inc. at www.missionmainstreetgrants.com/business/detail/17089.
Quattro has the technologies to mitigate one of the greatest threats to our society: ecological suicide via erosion, soil salinization, and soil fertility losses. What Quattro lacks is the manpower to get the word out. Winning the Mission Main Street Grant would help us “blanket the earth” with our technologies.
Eighteen years ago I was at an International Erosion Control Association conference when a startling consensus was announced: The low bid mandate for awarding state agency native plant seeding contracts was the most expensive route to implementing a revegetation project!
Fast forward to 2014, there have been no significant changes made to our dysfunctional government policies, and taxpayer funds continue to be squandered on revegetation efforts that have little chance of being successful. Until now.
In what Peter Thiel might call a “vertical progress” idea, Quattro announced their Certified Reclamation Team in May 2014, designed to overcome the tried-and-failed design and implementation shortcomings of State and Federal agency reclamation efforts. Now we can provide government agencies the same enhanced reclamation success as is enjoyed by private sector companies such as Shell Oil, Hyundai Motor Corporation, Rio Tinto Minerals, Central AZ Project and others. An outline of the program can be viewed at https://www.quattroenvironmental.com/2014/05/
When we are successful at accumulating 250 votes for Quattro’s application for a Mission Main Street Grant, we become eligible for a $150,000 grant to more effectively tell our Quattro “Living Soil Membrane” technology story. Your vote in favor of Quattro Environmental, Inc. would be appreciated in making this a reality.
Note: You must have a Facebook account to place your vote at the URL listed above. Alternatively, you can:
- Go to www.missionmainstreetgrants.com
- Search for Quattro Environmental, Inc.
- Click the VOTE NOW button next to the business name.
During the 2014 March through May windy season, fugitive dust in the Western Antelope Valley (located in northern Los Angeles County and the southeast portion of Kern County, California) negatively impacted air quality to an extent never experienced before. It has been likened to the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930‘s.
The historic drought of the past six years is generally acknowledged as precipitating the clouds of sand, which become airborne with the strong dry winds blowing in the afternoon and evening. However, the much hoped-for end to the drought (if we do indeed get El Nino conditions this winter) will not solve the Mojave* Dust Bowl problem.
The sources of this dust are complex: Large scale solar and wind power facilities, and Southern California Edison’s grid line and power station infrastructure are the current suspected causes of the problem. However, anyone who delves into the history of this high desert land soon realizes that the combination of barren or abandoned farm land is also a major contributing culprit. Solar farms, power corridors and urban development have undoubtedly contributed to dust emanating from large tracts of disturbed lands during construction activities, but similarly vulnerable bare agricultural lands (land being tilled; fallow fields; post-harvest fields) are in all likelihood the greatest contributor to poor air quality.
In addition to on-going large-scale cropping activities, historic disturbances included the introduction of exotic grasses for cattle grazing in place of native plant species over extensive tracts of desert lands, which has made these lands especially susceptible to wind erosion during drought conditions.
Problems created by fugitive dust include:
- soil erosion, especially topsoil loss;
- dune formation, including the burial of buildings, fences etc.;
- poor visibility, periodically contributing to fatal automobile accidents;
- human health issues caused by PM10 particulates (less than 10 microns in diameter) have an ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood streams;
- Valley fever has been increasing, a disease caused by a fungus that can be deadly for humans whose natural immune system is weak.
Despite attempts to draw attention to their plight, local residents are frustrated by a lackluster response by their regulatory bodies. The County’s energies are focused on the ongoing building of renewable energy facilities. Seemingly little attention is being paid to the consequences of such development that is destroying the environmental well-being of their community.
Regulatory decisions impacting the environment are being made by personnel who are not well grounded in leading edge reclamation technologies, or who do not clearly understand the complexity of addressing the problem. For example, permit specifications demanding that disturbed lands in the Mojave Desert attain 70% coverage with native plant species within two years is unrealistic. This lack of regulatory expertise often results in decisions not being made at all, thereby causing expensive project delays.
By the same token, developers of construction projects that disturb broad expanses of desert landscape could also benefit from state-of-the-art reclamation technologies. All too often more ground is being disturbed than absolutely needs to be disturbed (Los Angeles County has recently banned clear-grading in the course of constructing solar facilities). Once that disturbance has occurred, we constantly observe outdated tried-and-failed revegetation practices being implemented that have little-to-zero chance of producing sustainable stabilization results. The cost of repeated attempts at stabilizing soil can mount up quickly when outdated and ineffective approaches are being used.
Conventional soil stabilization practices do not even begin to address what we know to be the underlying key challenge to soil stabilization: sustainable native plant growth achieved by re-establishing a functioning soil community in that soil zone where live topsoil once existed.
The Quattro Alliance Solution:
Quattro Environmental and the Quattro Alliance team of professionals have the technologies to mitigate the Mojave Dust Bowl problem. We have demonstrated this repeatedly over 20 years in challenging environments spanning Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon, down through Nevada and south into the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of California and Arizona.
The drought is a convenient scapegoat for the extreme levels of fugitive dust currently blanketing the Antelope Valley whenever the afternoon winds blow. However, even if the much-hoped for El Nino phenomenon arrives later this year, the above-average rains will not bring sustainable relief to the fugitive dust problems of the “high desert” regions — unless a readily available technology such as Quattro’s Living Soil Membrane® (“LSM”) is brought to bear.
This LSM® technology addresses both the immediate “Holding Soil” challenges of the specific project, as well as the “Growing Soil” challenges to successfully re-establish sustainable native plant growth for long-term soil stabilization. Nurturing early seral stage plant species in tandem with mineral balancing + biological amendments sets the stage for the natural, accelerated re-establishment of a functioning, site-specific soil biological community. Conversely, absent the revival of such a functioning soil biological community (as is the case with conventional reclamation practices), hardy native plant species have little chance of survival.
Utilizing Quattro’s “Holding Soil” technologies NOW to immediately stabilize soil while the “Growing Soil” protocol works on the underlying (literally) factors of healthy native plant ecology will ultimately produce a viable, long-term and enduring solution to the Mojave Dust Bowl problem. By doing so, developers and agency personnel will be able to take advantage of the El Nino rains expected as early as fall 2014.
Footnote*: The Mojave Desert in California (within which the Antelope Valley is located), at elevations of 2,000 to 5,000 feet, is a transition desert between the hot Sonoran Desert to the south, and the cooler Great Basin Desert to the north. The climate has extreme fluctuations of daily temperatures (as low as 8°F in January and as high as 119°F in August). Although it is windy during all months, in late winter and early spring winds in excess of 25 mph with gusts of 75 mph or more are not uncommon.
09 May 2014
Quattro Certified® Reclamation
From time to time Quattro Environmental is asked to guarantee the success of a native revegetation seeding project. On such occasions, I ask the project manager/landowner if they can:
- Guarantee that the weather, rainfall, heat, wind and other forces of nature will cooperate with our efforts;
- Guarantee that the design is appropriate for the site and soil; and
- Guarantee that the products, seed and technology are applied exactly as specified in the design.
If the landowner can guarantee all of that, then I am happy to guarantee the success of the project. So far, no one has agreed to that proposition.
Let’s step back and take a look at what happens all too frequently in our industry. Here’s a typical scenario; you can apply the variations: A design firm is hired to design an erosion control revegetation plan for a project. The project is put out to bid. If it is a state agency, the “low bid” mandate prevails, and the winning bid is so low that we all know the likelihood is high that the specified seed + soil amendment products have not been ordered and will not be used, thus the design will not be implemented. The design firm has no authority over the implementation, thus the low bid contractor is free to use his own tried and true “design.” State agencies all too often lack, or simply don’t use, the muscle to enforce implementation of their approved designs. Is it any wonder that so many native revegetation projects fail?
In another incident just over a decade ago, I listened in wonder as a State agency, frustrated by 100% failure rates in their own roadside revegetation projects, seriously demanded that a seeding contractor guarantee the outcome of their (the State agency’s) reclamation design. Holding a contractor liable for the success of a revegetation effort designed by a third party is unreasonable and counter-productive, and making an applicator the scapegoat for a failed seeding effort makes about as much sense as blaming a house painter for cracks in the foundation.
In the absence of a third party willing to shoulder a project manager’s/land owner’s ultimate responsibility for successful revegetation on disturbed land, the question remains: “Is there any way to guarantee success?”
Quattro’s answer to that question is: “We will certify our results”. What does that mean to the client?
First: All parties involved in the reclamation project understand and agree that the ultimate responsibility for effecting a successful reclamation project remains with the landowner in charge of the property. Responsibility commensurate with authority should be the guiding principle here. Ultimate control and liability rests with the landowner throughout, not with the design firm, seed supplier, contractor or anyone else.
Second: All parties, including the landowner, proceed as a Quattro Alliance team to address both the “Holding soil” and “Growing soil” challenges that must be overcome to successfully re-establish sustainable native plant growth on the subject property. The Quattro Alliance uses a multitude of professional disciplines to address a challenging reclamation undertaking. This team approach is essential to ensuring that we manage all the issues that are critical to successful native revegetation, and then follow through flawlessly with a reasonable plan that maximizes the potential for success. Nature is not against us, nor is she for us. She is a force to be reckoned with that is not within our control. She is also intolerant of any “weak links” in our design + implementation efforts. And as climate change grips the planet, “average” weather conditions become harder and harder to predict. So a reasonable plan of attack makes the best use of finances, resources, logistics, talent — everything that is within our control — to achieve each site’s reclamation objectives under climate conditions that can be reasonably expected for the site, remembering that actual conditions may be far off that mark.
Third: Quattro’s next task is to employ the team’s “Best Value” technology approach. The shortcomings of the “low bid” mandate (currently the purview of public agency clients) comes into sharp relief when contrasted with a “Best Value” mandate, more typically found among private clients.
Many erosion control practitioners may remember the well-attended Contractor Forum at the 1997 IECA conference in Nashville, TN, where after 90 minutes of lively discussion we broke up with the somewhat startling consensus that the “low bid” contract invariably turns out to be the most expensive route to implementing a seeding project. Here we are almost 20 years later still grappling with the fallacy of the “low bid” mandate.
Fourth: Quattro’s team, which has designed the “Best Value” approach within the constraints of the project manager/landowner, is authorized to implement the design. Because the design is “Best Value,” there is no need to put it out for bid. Application is an integral factor in Quattro’s Certified® process. This “Best Value” technology approach has proven highly successful over the past 15 years on diverse terrain and climates spanning all states within the western U.S.
I mention the constraints of the project manager/landowner because budget is always a constraining factor. The higher the level of certainty desired, the more budget that should be invested. For example, a higher treatment rate of heavy-duty soil binder to withstand a 100-year storm event versus merely a 50-year storm event might be contemplated; or boosting humic substances to ensure one surpasses a minimum threshold that is required to buffer for soil mineral imbalances or salt toxicity in the seedbed soil, or increasing the protein nutrient supplied to expand the window of time during which early seral stage plant growth can be sustained until such time as nutrient cycling is effectively launched. (Resist all temptations to counterproductively double the seed and fertilizer budget!)
Fifth: If included in the budget, the Quattro Alliance team monitors its projects and remains actively engaged in responding to errant acts of Nature, hungry bunnies or whatever other devils beset a project. We keep working until the goals of the revegetation project are met.
This is what Quattro’s Certified® reclamation means. Everything within the control of the Quattro Alliance team, from the start to the finish of the project and beyond, is held to the highest “Best Value” standards. The client can be guaranteed that what he is paying for, he is getting: Quattro’s methodology, team of professionals and proven technologies. A steady stream of consistently successful revegetation projects, now spanning decades, underscores why hiring the Quattro team has paid off handsomely for our clients who are interested in a “Do it once, Do it right” approach.
17 Jun 2013
Doing It Once, Doing It Right
The extraction of minerals and energy from the earth invariably necessitates a disturbance of pristine environment. That is in direct conflict with an often-overlooked best management practice (BMP) for controlling erosion: don’t disturb the soil in the first place.
Fortunately, the emphasis of the extractive industries has changed significantly over the past two decades since I first entered the reclamation business. Traditionally mining companies had focused on managing a mineral resource. The game has changed to the point they now acknowledge they also have a broader natural resource to manage. Increasingly mining companies are tackling the formidable task of measuring and reporting both their positive and negative long-term impact on the environment and society.
Why? A company cannot find and extract minerals if it cannot access land. Part of the price for gaining future access to land is to meet stakeholder expectations about how companies should currently be managing their land. The strong message our environmentally enlightened society is sending to companies who must disturb the land is that approvals for future projects will only be won if the company can demonstrate that they are appropriately managing current projects. Regulatory pressure supplying teeth to this societal pressure is increasing almost everywhere.
Accordingly, in the pursuit of demonstrating good stewardship of the environment it becomes critically important to implement successful reclamation in a timely manner. Progressive, successful reestablishment of the native environment is critical to demonstrating a mine’s operational capability, and to creating confidence among stakeholders about current and future mine projects.
At Quattro, we have long stated that “Doing it once, doing it right” is the most cost-effective way to manage reclamation activities. Empirical data now exists highlighting the economic benefits of completing reclamation successfully the first time around. Reclamation failures can result in a 50% cost increase over the cost of planning for and implementing proper, and successful, reclamation techniques from the outset of the project. Or to put it another way, the low bid (as opposed to best value) option is notoriously the most expensive way to discharge one’s reclamation obligations.
The study addresses the economic impacts associated with both the direct costs and indirect costs of unsuccessful reclamation. The significant economic impacts associated with the direct costs reflect the additional earthwork for sediment clean-up and regrading, the costs of importing topsoil or applying soil amendments when poor soil conditions generate initial revegetation failures, the obvious repeat costs of re-seeding and re-installation of erosion control products, and the costs of weed control.
The hidden indirect costs include environmental manager and consultant time to coordinate reclamation work that needs to be redone, potential agency fines for stormwater management violations, and potential lost opportunity cost due to poor agency and landowner relationships that delay mineral extraction.
The study highlighted the importance of the need for environmental managers to set up a system for cost data collection to establish credible reclamation budgets. Providing reasonable estimates for reclamation activities that can be applied to capitalizing reclamation costs up front on future projects would ensure resource protection. Economic Benefits of Completing Reclamation Successfully the First Time for Oil & Gas Sites
11 Jun 2013
Passion for Implementing Successful Reclamation
As project manager for your agency’s reclamation project your focus may be on immediate erosion control via both hardscape and softscape best management practices. While immediate erosion control is a worthy goal, long-term erosion control is only attained by the re-establishment of sustainable native plant growth, invariably on soils that have been drastically disturbed. You may be lucky enough to be dealing with drastically disturbed topsoil. More likely, the term “drastically disturbed soils” will unfortunately be a euphemism for “all topsoil has vanished!” If so, accomplishing your objective can be tricky, as evidenced by the plethora of reclamation seeding project disappointments scattered throughout the arid Western U.S.
Take heart. From reviewing www.quattroenvironmental.com you have an understanding that the key to re-establishing long-term sustainable native plant growth has less to do with growing plants, than it has to do with restoring a functioning soil community beneath those plants. And as you embrace the Quattro LSM Growing Soil technologies, your first assignment becomes: How best to go about restoring a functioning soil community – on drastically disturbed soils – in a harsh environment?
The glib answer is “Very carefully”. Perhaps more helpfully, it is important to realize at the outset that Nature is intolerant of weak links. Weak links are found in both under-performing design technologies, and in flawed project implementation. Conventional “band-aid” seeding practices are an example of a design technology weak link. Our industry’s obsession with design implementation by an unsupervised low bidder is a classic example of a flawed project implementation weak link. Both guarantee project disappointment. Fortunately, there are talented experts who are willing to lend you a hand in navigating the multitude of tasks that must be performed flawlessly.
Quattro Environmental has assembled an alliance of professionals – clients, designers, suppliers and applicators – with the skills, resources and passion to ensure a “Do It Once, Do It Right” project outcome.
The Quattro Alliance has more than academic credentials, skills and resources. The team has a track record of consistently re-establishing native plant growth on drastically disturbed soils in harsh environments. They will be able to assist you in replicating this track record of success on your soils, and in your climate.
But equally importantly, the Quattro Alliance team members each have a passion for succeeding at rehabilitating the environment. Their passion is born out of love for the environment that inspires them to go that extra mile when circumstances (or Nature) demand it.
What fuels this passion? For one of our team members, it is the sense of awe when in the presence of true wilderness, like hiking down the Grand Canyon. For another, it is the joy of witnessing the fruits of intelligent reclamation — seeing a barren landscape come to life again, and watching wildlife move back in. Some of the photos on our home page were taken by a team member who captures his reverence and exhilaration for western landscapes through photography. For me, well, I was lucky enough to be raised in New Zealand, a land of pristine, rugged beauty. The photos (right) are from the Grand Traverse trek in the South Island of New Zealand. This six-day hike is like walking on the earth the day after its creation. Healing the earth and restoring its natural magnificence is what fuels my passion. What fuels yours?
03 Apr 2013
Quattro Environmental Launches New Website!
It’s taken a little longer than expected, but Quattro is proud to announce the launch of our new website. Be sure to check out our new BIND Series and GROW Series product lines and our sustained performance case studies that profile our proven track record of successful for erosion control and native revegetation projects.