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  • Writer's pictureEden's Garden Design

Drainage Issues in Utah

Only a handful of locations in Utah are flat, leaving a large portion of lots sloped or at a different elevation than its neighbors. This situation will always create drainage issues, especially if you have clay soil. We often have floods in our yard and basement and sadly it has occasionally spread to our neighbors. Knowing the best way to deal with runoff in your particular lot is very important in our region because of the type of moisture and soil we have. Our mountains are prone to mudslides and, if we are not careful, we can create those same issues in our individual landscapes. Erosion, even on a smaller scale, will do a lot of damage.

There are a few steps that can be done to help with erosion issues. The ultimate solution is to make sure the lot is properly sloped to direct runoff away from the house and out to a Bioswale (water runoff channel) or into the street. This will prevent damage to your house or your neighbor’s. The accepted slope degree away from your home is between 1-2%. If you are building a home, make sure to follow up (most likely more than once) with the contractor so that the proper drainage is fully accomplished. Grading the ground is the last thing they do and often forgot, poorly done, or rushed through. So make sure you stay on top of this so that you don't have to go back and fix it.

If you live in an established residence and there is no way of grading the slope the right degree, then there are a few steps you can do, which include installing a French Drain, Dry Well, or a pipe and pump system. Often times, finding the right watering system for your landscape or your neighbor’s will also mitigate erosion issues.

- A French drain is a ditch type system that will direct the water as it percolates into the soil to a low spot that will pull excess water away from structures or so forth. Often the drains are directed to the end of the property into the street, Bioswale or to a dry well on the property.

- A dry well is usually a large hole in the low spot of the property filled with large rocks to create air pockets for the water to collect while it slowly percolates into the ground around it. The dry well can be dressed up to appear natural in the surrounding area; there can be rock on top, lawn on top, a grate on top, or mulch in a flower bed on top.

In certain locations you will want a dry well with a pump connected to a pipe. This is what I have in my yard. I have a walkout patio with a large boulder retaining wall some 20 feet from the door. The company who leveled the property some 20 years ago grated all the land toward the house and into this walkout area so that any time there is rain, the basement floods. The patio is concrete nearly all the way to the retaining wall but there is nearly 1 foot of space at the lowest area of the patio where I dug a hole for a dry well. I trenched from the spot around the house and into the front yard, which is up hill. I connected a pipe to a very heavy duty pump (pumping uphill long distance) and buried the pipe. The pump and dry well have a grate over them so I can access it for service. It took a few trials to work the kinks out of the pump, but I now have a dry basement at all times.

As you can imagine, all of these solutions are very expensive, invasive, and time consuming. Which is why you want to get the grading on the property done right the first time.

A long term solution involves vegetation. Scientifically speaking, vegetation is the best form of erosion and drainage control. Trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses all have roots at varying depths in the soil. This creates a scenario in which nearly all layers of soil can potentially have a root system ready and willing to control water flow in their area. Roots quickly absorb water and store it for later use. To help the drainage in the soil add either compost, sand, or top soil to gain the balance of 20 percent sand, 40 percent compost and 40 percent topsoil. This will allow the water to percolate quickly into the soil.

And finally, think about using permeable products as your hardscape choice. If the runoff can penetrate into the patio or pathway areas, you will have less erosion issues and will keep more of the water onsite for the nearby plants. 

In conclusion drainage can be a serious problem not only to your own house and property but also for your neighbors and environment. Ask anyone who has had the misfortune of a flooded basement. Finding ways to direct drainage on your land will help solve these issues. Improving the soil structure, using permeable hardscaping and planting enough plants on the property will create the best setup for dealing with runoff, but you may also need dry wells or French drains to direct the water into better locations on or off the property. The best solution is to have the land graded properly from the beginning.

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