Get the Dirt on Soil


Today is World Soil Day, and we’d like to take the opportunity to highlight just how important the soil is to us, and for our work to protect, connect, and renew the Richland Creek ecosystem. Soil is truly remarkable, and essential for the health and function of our ecosystems. Bottomlands are the low-lying lands along waterways, and the soil found in them is some of the most fertile and well draining that exist. The soils throughout a watershed are purposeful and important for ecosystems and the natural benefits they provide for food, plants, animals, and people. Protecting soil is vital! One inch of topsoil takes at least 100 years to form, according to USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, and can take longer depending on vegetation and climate. They’ve also stated, “Improving the health of our Nation’s soil is one of the most important conservation endeavors of our time.”

Good, healthy soil performs many important functions. The most obvious benefit of soil is that it supports plant growth. One gram of healthy soil can contain up to one billion microorganisms! These microorganisms break down dead organic matter into nutrients that feed plants. Good soil produces healthy trees, vegetable gardens, and flowers. In short, the quality of your soil determines the quality of what you grow.

Another benefit soil provides is to soak up stormwater and direct it to groundwater sources, while filtering out pollutants along the way. The slow groundwater recharge gives our local waterways their base flow. In case you didn’t know, creeks flow daily because of this base flow, even on dry days. Having plenty of high-quality soil contributes to better water quality and higher capacity for storage in our watershed. Soil also acts as a carbon sink, just as trees do, absorbing carbon from the air.

  Healthy soil can be easily disrupted by the way we do or don’t take care of our land. Removing topsoil for use elsewhere can disrupt the fragile microbiome that is important to an ecosystem’s function. Monoculture lawns are frequently mowed and remove nutrients from the soil without replacing them, leading to soil depletion. Soil erosion creates problems both for the land and water environments. The excessive creation of hard surfaces in urban areas directs water mainly to concrete stormwater infrastructure. This increases the volume of stormwater and creates flashy behavior, as seen in the graph below. Instead of a gradual increase of water entering the creek over time, we get sharp peaks of stormwater entering the creek very quickly. The unnatural flashy behavior produced by this urban practice hastens the erosion of soil on the banks of our waterways, which contributes to the loss of many old trees, and increases the amount of sediment (dirt) in the water that impairs the aquatic habitat.

Here are some things you can do to help.

  • Advocate for more soil-water interaction during development.
  • Create more opportunities for your yard to capture water, such as just letting the downspout run to a tree, garden, or across your lawn.
  • Plant native trees and plants in your garden.
  • Start a compost pile, using your leaves, clippings, and plant debris for soil formation and to feed your garden.

Our Executive Director believes soil and water are the two most important resources for our planet and ecosystems. Understanding and appreciating the benefit of soil inspires us to inspire you to go out and work for its health. Our obligation to the future is to leave healthy soil and clean water. Our natural heritage needs us all to participate.

Will Southard

Outreach Coordinator

Richland Creek Watershed Alliance. All rights reserved. Richland Creek Watershed Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation.