Soil Conservation & Erosion Control

Soil erosion is a problem virtually everywhere. Soil loss may be the greatest threat to the long term survival of humanity. 90% of the land-based diversity of biological species is in the soil. Without the complex biological process sustained by living soils, life above ground simply would not exist.  In drylands, soil loss is especially severe and detrimental. Soil is the moisture storing medium that separates ecologically rich drylands from true biological deserts. Soil loss leads to moisture loss, which leads to vegetation loss, and in turn - increasing rates of soil erosion. This process is a downward spiral known as desertification and it is occurring all over the world right now. Desiccated soils support very little life above and below the surface. Healthy soils retain moisture and nutrients and provide everything needed for plants and animals to flourish. Ultimately, living soils support our every need and are our best hope for sequestering carbon on a global scale. In drylands, soil conservation is synonymous with moisture conservation.

Watershed Artisans uses a variety of erosion control methods based on passive water harvesting principles (learn more about our erosion control methods). We believe that it is not enough to simply control erosion. Soil conservation must first seek to address the root causes of erosion, such as poor land management practices, improper road drainage and sparse vegetative ground cover. Top soil and organic matter are eroded from the surface first, and followed predictably by deeper layers of soil. Artificially concentrated surface runoff, regardless of the cause, greatly accelerates soil loss. For this reason, we focus on maintaining dispersed flow everywhere possible. This allows moisture to infiltrate readily and supports dense vegetation. Where dispersed flow cannot be maintained, it is necessary to dissipate the energy of concentrated flow to allow sediment deposition and moisture infiltration. Erosion in each of these cases is caused by a different surface flow condition and our methods are designed to deal with the dynamics of each situation, as well as the transitional phases between them.

Transitional headcuts, like this one, are caused by sheet flow that is concentrated at the top of an eroding gully network. In this case, it is necessary to create a stable transition from sheet flow into the newly formed gully channel. This Rock Mulch Rundown stabilizes that transition and provides a protective environment for perennial grasses to grow. Previously, there had been little or no plant growth.

Once a deep gully channel has formed, it is very difficult to fill it in or get water out of it. To stabilize gully erosion, we use low grade control structures known as One Rock Dams to slow runoff, encourage deposition and recruit plants in the channel bottom. One Rock Dams are placed at meander crossovers/riffles to maintain or enhance the existing meander pattern and sediment transport process in the channel.

Headcuts found in established channels should be treated differently than transitional headcuts found at the top of gully networks. An in-channel headcut is an abrupt drop off in the channel bottom with an associated scour pool at its base. The people of Zuni Pueblo and Bill Zeedyk developed a headcut control structure known as a Zuni Bowl to stabilize in-channel headcuts. The shape of the Zuni Bowl is specifically designed to prevent erosion at the pour-over and at the scour pool, while dissipating the energy of the falling water and retaining soil moisture.


505 577-9625
1000 Cordova Pl., #832
Santa Fe, NM, 87505