What’s a silt barrier?

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A silt barrier is a device used in construction to prevent soil, silt, and pollutants from draining into nearby waterways. It is made of a geotextile fabric and is installed along a probable erosion path. Specialized silt fences are used in areas with heavy runoff, and underwater barriers are used in underwater construction. Regulatory agencies require the use of silt barriers, but they must be carefully maintained to be effective.

A silt barrier, sometimes called a silt fence, is a device used in construction, landscaping, and earthmoving projects. The function of the barrier is to prevent silt, soil and pollutants from draining from the site and into nearby sewers or bodies of water. Silt is the name for tiny soil particles that are washed away by water, a process called erosion. A natural process, erosion can be increased when vegetation is disturbed or removed. Although it’s called a silt barrier, the device is designed to capture other substances as well while allowing water to flow through.

Erosion occurs when rain or other water flows over the soil, carrying away small particles called silt. Vegetation has a natural erosion-reducing effect, keeping most of the soil in place with roots and ground cover. Human construction and landscaping projects often remove this vegetation and its protection from erosion. Heavy rain can wash away large amounts of soil from a construction site, along with chemicals, metal fragments and other pollutants. A silt barrier is designed to prevent this process when installed and used correctly.

A silt barrier is made from a porous fabric called a geotextile. The pores in the fabric are small enough to filter out most of the solid particles from the water escaping the site. The barrier is erected along a probable erosion path such as a slope. The lower edge is buried well below the soil surface and then reinforced so that it is not moved by strong water flows; vertical posts at regular intervals keep the barrier erect. Silt and sediment collect against the reef, where it can be turned into the site’s soil when the project is finished.

Specialized silt fences are used in areas where heavy runoff is expected. Another type of silt barrier is designed for use in underwater construction. This barrier is higher than the depth of the water, effectively creating a wall to catch any sediment removed by the building. It is weighted down with chains at the bottom to keep it from moving in the current. Specialists often supervise the installation of these silt barriers to customize them to site needs.

Regulatory agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) require the use of silt barriers to preserve the integrity of nearby construction sites and waterways. The EPA cautions that a silt barrier must be carefully maintained to serve its purpose. The fragile fabric can often be damaged by improper construction equipment and care. Some silt fences need to be moved multiple times during a project and may not be reinstalled properly during hectic activity. These factors can reduce the effectiveness of a silt barrier, with harmful long-term consequences.

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