Soil Care & Conservation
Healthy soil goes hand in hand with a healthy environment. Increases in noxious weeds, erosion and low spring and well levels are all indicators of poor soil health. Landowners need to be aware that poor soil quality is linked to:
- An ineffective water cycle, leading to reduced water in springs and wells
- Invasions of non-native weeds
- Reduced land productivity (ability to grow plants)
- Sediment in our streams, rivers, and lakes
The first and most important step in improving soil health is to recognize that soil is a living organism, and all other parts of our ecosystems depend on it.
Soil Health & the Sierra Nevada
Soil health is directly connected with water quality and availability. This is especially important in the Sierra Nevada, where 80% of the water Californians consume originates.
Dangers of Sediment in Water Supplies
Soil washing downstream is known as sediment. It is the leading pollutant in our nation's surface waters. It fills reservoirs, reduces water availability and fish spawning habitat, and depletes important nutrients from topsoil. Sediment in streams, rivers and lakes may be caused by ground disturbance during grading on construction sites, use of mechanical and/or heavy equipment on slopes, lack of or improperly sized culverts, inadequate gutters and drainages, improperly installed driveways and access roads, or any other activity that disturbs the soil and is not properly treated or mitigated prior to the rainy season.
Levels of Organic Matter & Soil Health
Organic matter (decomposing vegetation) in soil is an important indicator of soil health. Low levels of organic matter in our soils are as great a cause of runoff and erosion as paved surfaces, homes and development.
Vegetation not only provides cover and habitat for birds, mammals, and beneficial insects, but also prevents soil erosion. Vegetation holds the soil in place, adds organic matter, provides important nutrients and reduces weed competition. In addition, increasing the organic material in your soil increases the amount of water infiltration and retention, which facilitates groundwater recharge.
Maintaining Organic Matter Levels
Some basic practices are to:
- Avoid compaction and tillage.
- Be sure that water, nutrients, and air are adequate for plants to grow well.
- Conserve topsoil by preventing erosion.
- Increase organic matter with compost, cover crops, and mulching.