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Soil enhancement critical for long-term restoration

Friday, August 08, 2014

Ted Hartsig, CPSS, Environmental Assessment

George W. Bush Presidential Library groundsWhat do a former bombing range near Denver, the Bush Library in Dallas, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and oil and gas pad sites in Colorado have in common? In each of these areas, the quality of the area’s soil and vegetation has huge impacts on the surrounding community. Whether a site is urban or rural, infrastructure is affected by the soil that surrounds it. Olsson’s soil scientists have been involved in several soil projects that have helped communities to thrive.

Restoring and managing soil resources to allow plants and vegetation to flourish, as well as to filter and conserve water and energy, are integral elements to ensuring growth in the area. Olsson’s soil scientists use their expertise to perform site assessments, sampling, analysis, and plan development to restore soils that become the base for a sustainable environment.

Project Challenge: The Former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range

One example of Olsson’s soil expertise is a project that team members are completing at the Former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range (FLBGR) in Arapahoe County, Colorado. This 92-mile area was used during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War as a place for armament and bombing training. Over the years, bombs, rockets, grenades, flares, and other explosives and propellants were used at the site. Eventually, the facility was closed to testing and training, and developers began to build housing, schools, and other amenities in the area around FLBGR.

Olsson staff members, led by soil scientist James Hartsig, are working with a team of experts to assess soil conditions that may be limiting vegetation growth at the FLBGR. Their goal is to mitigate the impacts of past testing at the site and restore the area to a place where the open rangelands can thrive and cattle can graze.

Team members will examine soils in the field and collect and analyze samples to determine existing conditions and potential problems. Based on the field assessment and sample analyses, the team will develop a plan to enhance the soil environment to foster better grass growth for cattle grazing and to reestablish the native prairie in the area.

Countering High Salt Content Challenges

Salt-affected soils and the resulting vegetation problemsElsewhere in the country, soil can have particularly high concentrations of salts, including calcium, sodium, chlorides, and sulfides. Such high concentrations of salts will often diminish plant growth, reduce water infiltration, and require great amounts of energy and water to reclaim the soil and the areas for productive use. In many communities with saline soils, sustaining plants means using very high levels of irrigation water and energy for endless cycles of fertilizing and then often replacing failing vegetation.

For example, Colorado’s numerous open areas on both the front and west ranges have significant soil disturbances where oil and gas wells are drilled and access roads to well pads are established. These construction activities may increase erosion and also may make re-vegetation and restoration difficult. Olsson team members are helping to establish thriving vegetation at many of these locations. This work will be essential to reducing soil erosion, eliminating wind-blown particulates from the ground, increasing water infiltration, and, ultimately, restoring disturbed sites to productive capability.

Using New Methods to Restore Soils

Olsson’s soil scientists are not only experienced in using traditional methods of soil restoration, but they are also working to develop new, more efficient and effective strategies for restoring disturbed and degraded soils and vegetation in rural and urban environments. For many projects, team members are engaged in concepts such as restoring degraded soil or building “new” soil. Scientists are also using microorganisms with specific uses to establish particular plant species or to isolate and immobilize salts to make soil more usable for landscapes and water utilization.

Both the Bush Library and the Gateway Arch are in urban areas with different soil challenges. However, in each case, the city desires sustainable vegetation that requires less water and less energy to maintain, while also providing high-level uses for the surrounding communities. At both of these locations, Olsson assessed the existing conditions, analyzed the soil chemistry and physical condition, and studied the soil biology to see if the proper balance was present to achieve sustainability goals.

Rebuilding and reconditioning soils in these areas not only help restore these striking environments, but also the lessons learned are bringing new understanding and means to restoring sites faster and with more success and less effort. Managing these seemingly small factors of soils will pay huge dividends for communities and the environment.

If you have questions about how Olsson can help with soils, vegetation, and site restoration challenges, contact Ted Hartsig at 913.381.1170 or thartsig@olssonassociates.com.

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