Water Erosion: Different Types and Preventive Measures

Water Erosion: Different Types and Preventive Measures
External Guest Writer
June 2, 2022

What is Water Erosion?

Soil erosion happens when small soil particles are carried away by elements such as wind or water, leading to soil degradation and damage to the soil surface. In this case, water erosion is caused by water flow, whether through rainfall intensity, flooding, or by the movements of a nearby body of water.

Soil erosion occurs as particles are washed away, causing the layers beneath the surface to get exposed. As water washes away these particles, the land loses its structural integrity, and can have irreversible damage to plants and crops cultivated on the land.

Water erosion caused by flooding can cause soil to lose the nutrients it needs to encourage plant growth, so many farmers take great measures in preventing erosion, and reversing the damage caused by the erosion process.

What Are the Causes of Water Erosion?

The main cause of soil erosion in this case is water. However, human intervention has accelerated erosion by over 100x due to unsustainable farming practices, illegal logging, and preparation of lands for agricultural use. Soil can easily wash away through floods and rain without trees and deep-rooted plants to stop land degradation.

Poor soil can also cause erosion, as the particles are too loose to form clumps to prevent water damage. As the loose particles undergo wind erosion, and are washed away by water, the land becomes bare and loses its nutrients. 

Natural occurrences like rain, ocean waves, and underground streams can cause erosion and overland flow. In farming, improper irrigation, spillage, and malfunctioning water systems can also cause erosion when the water comes in contact with the land and starts to flow particles away.

The Different Types of Water Erosion

There are different types of water erosion, but all cause damage to the land and deplete the nutrients in soil, making agricultural practices more difficult. Soil structure is also at stake, as well as the purity of it when in contact with polluted waters. 

These different types of erosion are dependent on the flow of water, which can be natural, like rivers, streams, oceans, and channels, or man-made, like drip irrigation, floods due to climate change, and unsustainable agricultural practices. 

Rill Erosion

Rill erosion happens when flowing water carries soil down a slope, causing a stream-like indent where the water passes through. In a field, rill erosion is caused by small channels of water carrying soil particles away, resulting in small slopes to form as a part of the erosion processes. Excessive erosion happens when a concentrated flow covers a large area.

Gully Erosion

A gully erosion is where the channels of running water form slopes large enough that they cannot be smoothed out by traditional tilling equipment. Like rill erosion, a gully erosion is formed by running water carrying soil away from the land, causing the large slope indentations signature to gully erosion. 

Sheet Erosion

Sheet erosion is when a large area of land is stripped away of a thin layer of topsoil. Sheet erosion can be caused by multiple factors, but the most common is through flooding, or melting snow that displaces the top layer. Without erosion control, sheet erosion can easily destroy the land surface, carrying away significant sediment load. 

Splash Erosion

Splash erosion happens when particles are dislodged by large droplets of water, such as through rainfall or splashes from nearby waterfalls. These can cause considerable land degradation as splash erosion depletes soil properties over time.

Coastal Erosion

This type of water erosion is caused by rising sea levels. As the waves push towards dry land, it carries away rocks and sediment, leading to surface runoff along the coast. Water erosion is responsible for shaping islands and coastal cliffs, but can be detrimental to the fertility of the surrounding soil during high tide.

The Negative Effects of Water Erosion

Without proper control measures, soil erosion can cause significant damage to the land, creating steep slopes over time. Water erosion thins out the bare soil through consistent and high erosion rates. These particles, when in water, also cause water pollution, especially as wet soil clumps into mud when in water.

Frequent flooding can carry pollution to lands and cause erosion at the same time. Nutrient degradation is a huge problem, as water flows through the earth, carrying away nutrients that may dissolve in the water. Moisture can also cause mold and mildew to form, as well as harbor deadly fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms. 

The erosion process can pose a problem for many agricultural and natural areas. Water control is often implemented to keep water from flowing through the land areas. Agricultural researchers study to keep water systems from destroying lands, and keep the earth healthy and sustainable.

How to Prevent Water Erosion

Growing plants with stable roots prevents water erosion in cultivated lands, as the root systems keep the soil together. Trees, and other deep-rooted flora are planted around erosion-prone areas to keep the soil intact.

Mangroves have been known to combat floods and soil erosion by water in tropical regions, and trees on slopes prevent soil from being washed down the hill. Cover crops, like rye and clover, offer protection from wind and water erosion by using their netroots to prevent soil loss.

Some farms place ground covers on bare patches of soil to prevent rain and wind from carrying the soil away and causing overland flow, as well as splash erosion from irrigation. Excess water should be drained out of soil, particularly when used for agricultural systems, to combat erosion.

Keep On Planting

Above all, planting the right kinds of foliage is the most effective way to prevent erosion from happening. As nature provides the solution to its problems, humans can look into natural ways to combat erosion, and advance on the current preventive methods to find ones that are more beneficial to the land.