1. BMP 5.6.2: Minimize Soil Compaction in Disturbed Areas
      1. Water Quality Functions
      2. Stormwater Functions
      3. Key Design ElementsPotential Applications
    1. Description:
    2. Applications
      1. Design Considerations
    3. Detailed Stormwater Functions
      1. Volume Reduction Calculations
      2. Peak Rate Mitigation Calculations
      3. Water Quality Improvement
    4. Construction Issues
    5. Maintenance Issues
    6. Cost Issues
    7. Specifications
    8. References

BMP 5.6.2: Minimize Soil Compaction in Disturbed Areas
Minimizing Soil Compaction and Ensuring Topsoil Quality is the
practice of enhancing, protecting, and minimizing damage to soil
quality caused by land development.
Image Source: “Developing an Effective Soil Management Strategy: Healthy Soil Is At the Root
Of Everything”, Ocean County Soil Conservation District
Water Quality Functions
Volume Reduction:
Peak Rate Control:
Water Quality:
Very High
Very High
Very High
Stormwater Functions
Key Design Elements
Potential Applications
Ultra Urban:
Protecting disturbed soils areas from excessive compaction
during construction
Minimizing large cleared areas and stockpiling of topsoil
Using quality topsoil
Maintaining soil quality after construction
Reducing the Site Disturbance Area through design and
construction practices
Soil Restoration for areas that are not adequately protected or
have been degraded by previous activities (Section 6)
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Soil is a physical matrix of weathered rock particles and organic matter that supports a complex
biological community. This matrix has developed over a long time period and varies greatly within the
state. Healthy soils, which have not been compacted, perform numerous valuable stormwater
functions, including:
Effectively cycling nutrients
Minimizing runoff and erosion
Maximizing water-holding capacity
Reducing storm runoff surges
Adsorbing and filtering excess nutrients, sediments, pollutants to protect surface and
Providing a healthy root environment and creating habitat for microbes, plants, and animals
Reducing the resources needed to care for turf and landscape plantings
Once natural soils are overly compacted and permeability is drastically reduced, these functions are
lost and can never be completely restored (Hanks and Lewandowski, 2003). In fact, the runoff
response of vegetated areas with highly compacted soils closely resembles that of impervious areas,
especially during large storm events (Schueler, undated). Therefore this BMP is intended to prevent
compaction or minimize the degree and extent of compaction in areas that are to be “pervious”
following development.
Although erosion and sediment control practices are equally important to protect soil, this BMP differs
from them in that it is intended to reduce the area of soil that experiences excessive compaction during
construction activities.
This BMP can be applied to any land development that has existing areas of relatively healthy soil and
proposed “pervious” areas. If existing soils have already been excessively compacted, Soil Restoration
is applicable (Chapter 6).
Figure 5.7-1 Example of development with site compaction of soils
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Design Considerations
Early in the design phase of a project, the designer should develop a soil management plan based on
soil types and existing level of disturbance (if any), how runoff will flow off existing and proposed
impervious areas, areas of trees and natural vegetation that can be preserved, and tests indicating soil
depth and quality. The plan should clearly show the following:
1. Protected Areas.
Soil and vegetation disturbance is not allowed. Protection of healthy, natural
soils is the most effective strategy for preserving soil functions. Not only can the functions be
maintained but protected soil organisms are also available to colonize neighboring disturbed
areas after construction.
2. Minimal Disturbance Areas.
Limited construction disturbance occurs - soil amendments may
be necessary for such areas to be considered fully pervious after development. Areas to be
vegetated after development should be designated Minimal Disturbance Areas.
3. Construction Traffic Areas.
Areas where construction traffic is allowed - if these areas are to
be considered fully pervious following development, a program of Soil Restoration will be
4. Topsoil Stockpiling and Storage Areas.
These areas should be protected and maintained and
are subject to Soil Restoration (including compost and other amendments) following
5. Topsoil Quality and Placement.
Soil tests are recommended. Topsoil applied to disturbed
areas should meet certain parameters as shown in Appendix C. Adequate depth (4” minimum
for turf, more for other vegetation), organic content (5% minimum), and reduced compaction
(1400 kPa maximum) are especially important (Hanks and Lewandowski, 2001). To allow water
to pass from one layer to the other, topsoil must be “bonded” to the subsoil when it is reapplied
to disturbed areas.
Figure 5.7-2 Example of site development with extreme soil compaction on steep slope
The first two areas (Protected and Minimal Disturbance) should be made as large as possible, identified
by signage, and fenced off from construction traffic. Construction Traffic Areas should be as small as
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Detailed Stormwater Functions
Volume Reduction Calculations
Minimizing Soil Compaction and Ensuring Topsoil Quality can reduce the volume of runoff by
maintaining soil functions related to stormwater and thereby increasing infiltration and
evapotranspiration. This can be credited in site stormwater calculations through lower runoff
coefficients and/or higher infiltration rates. See Chapter 8 for volume reduction calculation
Peak Rate Mitigation Calculations
Minimizing Soil Compaction and Ensuring Topsoil Quality can reduce the rate of runoff by
maintaining soil functions related to stormwater. This can be credited in site stormwater
calculations through lower runoff coefficients, higher infiltration rates, and/or longer times of travel.
See Chapter 8 for peak rate calculation methodologies.
Water Quality Improvement
Minimizing Soil Compaction and Ensuring Topsoil Quality can improve water quality through
infiltration, filtration, chemical and biological processes in the soil, and a reduced need for fertilizers
and pesticides after development. See Chapter 8 for Water Quality Improvement methodologies.
Construction Issues
1. At the start of construction, Protected and Minimal Disturbance Areas must be identified with
signage and fenced as shown on the construction drawings.
2. Protected and Minimal Disturbance Areas should be strictly enforced.
3. Protected and Minimal Disturbance Areas should be protected from excessive sediment and
stormwater loads while upgradient areas remain in a disturbed state.
4. Topsoil storage areas should be maintained and protected at all times. When topsoil is
reapplied to disturbed areas it must be “bonded” with the subsoil. This can be done by
spreading a thin layer of topsoil (2 to 3 inches), tilling it into the subsoil, and then applying the
remaining topsoil. Topsoil must meet certain requirements as detailed in Appendix C.
Maintenance Issues
Sites that have minimized soil compaction properly during the development process should require
considerably less maintenance than sites that have not. Landscape vegetation will likely be healthier,
have a higher survival rate, require less irrigation and fertilizer, and even look better.
Some maintenance activities such as frequent lawn mowing can cause considerable soil compaction
after construction and should be avoided whenever possible. Planting low-maintenance native
vegetation is the best way to avoid damage due to maintenance.
Protected Areas on private property could have an easement, deed restriction, or other legal measure
to prevent future disturbance or neglect.
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Cost Issues
Minimizing Soil Compaction and Ensuring Topsoil Quality generally results in a significant construction
cost savings. Minimizing soil compaction can reduce disturbance, clearing, earthwork, the need for Soil
Restoration, and the size and extent of costly, engineered stormwater management systems. Ensuring
topsoil quality can significantly reduce the cost of landscaping vegetation (higher survival rate, less
replanting) and landscaping maintenance.
Design costs may increase slightly due to a more thoughtful, site-specific design.
Soil Restoration specifications can be found in Chapter 6.
Hanks, D. and Lewandowski, A.
Protecting Urban Soil Quality: Examples for Landscape Codes and
. USDA-NRCS, 2003.
Ocean County Soil Conservation District.
Impact of Soil Disturbance during Construction on Bulk
Density and Infiltration in Ocean County, New Jersey
. 2001. Available at
as of May 2004.
Schueler, T. “The Compaction of Urban Soils,” Technical Note #107 from
Watershed Protection
. 3(2): 661-665, undated.
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