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U of I is ally in the
Army's war on erosion    
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[APRIL 26, 2004]  URBANA -- With millions of dollars at stake, researchers at the University of Illinois are working with the Department of Defense to fight soil erosion on military installations across the country.

Every 12 months, the department must maintain the berms used in training maneuvers at these installations. The berms are basically controlled combat zones with jeeps, tanks and ops trucks tearing up the ground while gunfire and grenades cause even greater damage.

"In the past, people didn't put much thought into how to design berms to reduce soil erosion," said Prasanta Kalita, agricultural engineer at the U of I. But the sediment eroding into nearby rivers and streams has become a problem, and like everyone else, the military must observe environmental compliance.

"Also, the lead that comes from the ammunition is strongly tied to the soil particle," said Kalita, "so clean drinking water is a real concern."

Supported by grants coming through the Construction Engineering Research Lab, Kalita is working with the range managers at six military installations: Camp Atterbury in Indiana, Fort Knox in Kentucky, Fort Campbell in Tennessee, Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Carson at Colorado Springs and Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

When the project began, the United States was at war with Iraq and access to the bases was restricted. Since the end of the war, Kalita has set up an extensive set of water monitoring stations at Camp Atterbury in Indiana to evaluate water going into the base, water within the base and water leaving the base.

"We are looking at how the water quality is changing due to berm erosion and lead contamination, and what is getting out of the installation," said Kalita. He has also brought samples of lead-contaminated soil from the berms at Camp Atterbury back to the U of I and will conduct experiments using a new rainfall simulator to see how much lead comes off those samples.


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"This is the second year of a three- to six-year project," he noted, "and we should have all the monitoring stations installed at all the forts by the end of this year."

Kalita's research will determine guidelines to use to design the berms. The guidelines will include slope of the berm, compaction of the soil, composition of berm materials and vegetative cover. He will then write design manuals specific to each site.

Kalita also teaches a class on soil and water contamination structures, and he plans to include his students in the project.

"This is an excellent thing -- it kind of piggybacks on top of the project," he said. "We will develop waterways, terraces, sediment detention basins and wetlands for erosion control. My students will get practical experience. They are all excited to do the work."

Kalita believes that, over time, his research will enable the Department of Defense to win the battle against erosion on two fronts -- environmental and economic. The improved design guidelines will allow range management to contain or prevent contamination of the area's water and natural resources. It will also reduce their maintenance schedule on the berms from every 12 months to every 24 to 30 months, cutting maintenance costs in half.

[University of Illinois news release]


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