Healthy soil goes hand in hand with a healthy environment. Landowners need to be aware that poor soil quality is linked to:invasions of non-native weeds; erosion; sediment in our streams,
rivers and lakes; reduced land productivity (ability to grow plants); and an ineffective water cycle, leading to reduced water in springs and wells. Increases in noxious weeds, erosion and
low spring and well levels are all indicators of poor soil health. 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 is directly connected with water quality and availability. This is especially important in the Sierra Nevada, where 80% of the water Californians consume originates. 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.
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 ground water recharge.
Some basic practices are to avoid compaction and tillage, conserve topsoil by preventing erosion and increase organic matter with compost, cover crops and mulching. Be sure that water, nutrients and air are adequate for plants to grow well.