How to Manage Those "Ditches" We Call Driveways
by Dale Finseth
It's now the beginning of the summer season, i.e. it is mid-June. As part of our focus on nonpoint source pollution I'll discuss gravel roads.
Here in Maine, and particularly in and around our lakes and ponds, we frequently need to travel on and frequently are responsible for a gravel camp road or our own gravel driveway. Those road surfaces often collect and direct runoff into our lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands.
Much of our conservation work and the work of various Youth Conservation Corps, road associations, and watershed groups will focus on gravel road work. Gravel road erosion is a major source of sediment into our lakes, and that sediment carries phosphorus in addition to other toxins like road salt, oil and the like.
Improving the way those gravel roads function is an excellent way to help protect water quality. Given all the use those roads get during the summer, an improved road both costs less money over time and makes for a much better "mud season".
Many roads that did NOT receive a "spring upgrade" are already showing problems at the beginning of the summer. Potholes have appeared; ruts have developed in the tire lanes; ditches may NOT be directing runoff into the woods and other vegetated areas. Instead, the roadway, culverts, and ditches are all working together in order to direct stormwater and the sediment into the lake.
The Kennebec County Soil & Water Conservation District focuses on gravel road management plans as a means to provide landowners a better understanding of how their road impacts water quality and how to manage its maintenance to minimize that impact. A good road plan also provides the landowners with information to better budget the resources they devote to their shared roadway. Those resources not only include the dues paid by landowners, but the volunteer work to maintain it. A better maintained road can save a property from damage caused by stormwater leaving the roadway and damaging the individual's property.
It is important for people to better understand how the road "works." Given the road plans written in the past few years, feedback is good. People appreciate the advantage of having a long-range plan to protect the investment they have already made in their gravel road access.
While the road plan is usually for the "shared" road, which is the responsibility of the property owners, many of the recommendations and best management practices can easily be modified to help the individual camp owners better manage their own driveways. We do NOT want to see these gravel roads simply become a means to transfer silt and phosphorus filled conduits to our waterways. Intercepting that stormwater is an excellent way to help protect water quality.
…And with the improved attention to long term maintenance they can expect better long term water quality. Definitely a win-win situation. Remember, there is a lot to do in order to protect water quality.
Dale Finseth is executive diretor of the Kennebec County Soil & Water Conservation District in Augusta. For more information about the district and its projects, call him at