Follow the Water with Carlson Natural Regrade

By Karen Cummings • December 27th, 2016
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Is It Time to Follow – Not Force – The Water?

“Why spend money building something that’s unnatural when doing it nature’s way works better,” says Geo-Fluv™ developer Nicholas Bugosh.

The Geo-Fluv™ method is available in Natural Regrade, a Carlson software product developed for the reclamation of disturbed land that has gained extensive use at mine sites around the world. It enables designers to recreate the natural drainage network that had developed over time. “It, in essence, compresses time,” says Bugosh, “and uses algorithms based on nature to bring back hydrologic balance, thus producing a stable landform.”

Beautiful valley in Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Note that it is water that has produced the world as we know it over the 10,000 to 12,000 years since the last Ice Age. And done a very good job of it if we just consider beautiful places surrounding us from the hills and valleys outside our windows to dramatic features like the fjords in Norway, and the mountains and valleys of Switzerland to name a few.

Yet, when this stable natural land surface is disturbed to build a house, a road, a parking lot, an apartment complex, a mall, or similar project, the natural flow of water is thwarted – and often concentrated and increased – and it is treated as a problem to be routed away. With Natural Regrade, better designs are possible to not only handle the potential storm and snowmelt run-off, but also meet an increasing number of criteria that include preventing pollution and being sustainable, and also being safe, esthetically pleasing, and environmentally sound.

Roadside erosion

Unnatural landform leads to erosion.

Traditional methods of dealing with this natural water run-off include linear ditches, retention ponds, gradient terraces with down drains, gravel filter berms, and much more. Yet these attempts to replace the hydrologic functions lost during the disturbance only remotely resemble how nature handles it. That might explain why most just don’t work, at least not in a sustainable manner, and some of them are actually dangerous with steep embankments, unprotected outlets, or flooding problems from heavier than usual run-off.

While Bugosh admits that often in urban areas there is just not room to put in the “meander bends” that nature does, he notes that linear ditches most often used to cut off the distance the water travels and, therefore increasing its slope and thus the water’s volume and speed, serves to increase water flow much more rapidly during rainfall events, leading to erosion and flooding concerns.

Water flowing naturally

Designing “nature’s way” with Natural Regrade.

As the U.S. Geological Society notes on its website, “…as more development and urbanization occur, more of the natural landscape is replaced by impervious surfaces, such as roads, houses, parking lots, and buildings that reduce infiltration of water into the ground and accelerate runoff to ditches and streams.” Also, development brings about the removal of vegetation and soil and unnatural grading of the land surface. These disturbances often result in accelerated erosion, which is nature’s way of trying to re-establish the disturbed land surface’s hydrologic function.

The park service came up with a unique way to deal with this at Yellowstone Park in an effort to maintain its delicate ecosystem. Partnering with Michelin, they’ve installed “thirsty concrete” to replace 4160 feet of walkway throughout the park. Made of recycled tires, stone, and a binding agent, this Flexi-Pave concrete absorbs 3000 gallons of water per square foot per hour. As it says in a Tech Insider video, “By replacing traditional concrete, rainwater and melted snow can be redistributed back into Yellowstone’s aquifer…”

The park service’s solution is probably not viable for large developments, so another option is for civil engineers and designers to take a step back and reexamine how they deal with water. Maybe, as land development continues, and in a “don’t mess with Mother Nature” theme, it’s time to try other methods and to “go with the flow” for more natural — and sustainable — drainage.

Learn more about Natural Regrade.


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