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NRCS and National Guard

NRCS Partners with SC Army National Guard to Implement Conservation on Training Area

By: Sabrenna Bennett, Public Affairs Assistant

As a soldier, training is a daily, continuous process, designed to instill the survival skills needed on the battlefield. Because of constant use of roads and fields, as well as pressure from natural elements, significant damage to the environment at an army base can result. For this reason, NRCS and the SC Army National Guard (SCARNG) formed a conservation partnership through a cooperative agreement. Bryan Hall, SCARNG conservation manager, directs the environmental program utilizing conservation practices to remediate erosion and other natural resource concerns, ultimately resulting in improved training areas on the facility. With NRCS technical assistance from Design Engineer Eric Fleming, Conservation Agronomist Gene Hardee and Urban Conservationist Jim Wilson, the SCARNG has installed erosion control practices, storm water management practices and training area improvement practices (such as tank turn pads on well-used roads). “NRCS has become a cornerstone in our soil stabilization program,” stated Hall. “They provide us with technical expertise from initial site identification and design to final remediation and follow up monitoring. Without NRCS our program would not be at the level it is today.”

The partnership began in the fall of 1998 with the installation of conservation practices exceeding $750,000. The installed practices meet NRCS specifications and are tailored specifically for these projects. They have been funded under the Integrated Training Area Management (ITAM) and the Environment (ENV) Programs of the Department of Defense. ITAM relates to training area improvement, such as the installation of turn pads, while the ENV program addresses erosion control, water quality, and natural resource issues, such as threatened and endangered species habitat.

The overall size of the SCARNG McCrady Training Center is around 15,000 acres, and 5,000 of those acres have been planned for conservation practices. There are approximately 110 miles of dirt roads needing attention because of erosion, (in addition to other eroded training areas) resulting in the facility spending approximately $100,000 a year on erosion control.

One of the erosion control projects NRCS has assisted with on the facility involved a 12-foot deep gully, which was repaired for use as a nature trail. To combat the erosion, a pipe-drop structure was installed with a grassed waterway and a rock riprap chute. Additionally, slope drains were installed on an adjacent slope, helping to prevent further damage. These devices consisted of a surface inlet connected to a pipe that drained runoff water to the bottom of the hill, rather than allowing water to run downhill, potentially causing more erosion damage. A specially developed seed mixture was also planted throughout the remediated gully site and along the nature trail to slow down runoff water and prevent further erosion. “The extensive erosion caused by uncontrolled water and soldier training impacts the eco-system with sediment and poor water quality,” stated Wilson. “In partnership with NRCS, the National Guard has developed an erosion plan to correct the problem that affects water quality. This in turn serves the purpose of soldier training.”

Other areas of accelerated erosion are the firebreaks that are located every one tenth of a mile. On the repaired areas, the firebreaks have been shaped and seeded to control the erosion problems.

While erosion is important, it isn’t the only problem plaguing the training site. Storm water management is also a priority. Excessive runoff water from disturbed areas can lead to several problems, including sediment deposits in wetland areas. For this reason, a large sediment basin was installed downstream of an intensely used training area. The basin acts as a filter, purifying the water by removing sediment, thus enhancing water quality. Below the basin, runoff water continues on its natural pattern through the watershed. “The sediment basin is essential because it is protecting the streams and associated wetlands from the negative impacts of military training,” stated Fleming. Gene Hardee’s specially developed seed mix was utilized on this site as well. The mix includes native warm season grasses (such as little bluestem) to stabilize the site and provide the additional benefit of enhanced wildlife habitat.

In addition to conservation practices, the National Guard also installed six tank turn pads to improve roads frequently used by military tanks. The large, fast moving tanks damaged the roads by making deep ruts in the intersections as they turned the vehicles, leading to erosion and encroachment into adjacent threatened and endangered species habitat areas. This problem was addressed by installing thirty-foot wide concrete turn pads in the curves, which prevents the wearing away of the soil by tanks.

In the future, NRCS and the National Guard plan to continue their partnership by establishing additional conservation practices. Just as military training is a continuous, on-going process, the protection and conservation of natural resources must also be on-going to ensure training areas can support future activities.