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Erosion control history and evolution

ECTC News | February 1, 2023 | By: Kurt Kelsey

Figure 1 Curlex, the first ever erosion control blanket (ECB), was invented in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of American Excelsior Co.

I’m always excited at the opportunity to write this column in Geosynthetics magazine on behalf of the industry, but this issue’s focus on erosion control is extra special because “it’s in our name”: Erosion Control Technology Council (ECTC). ECTC is a leading industry organization whose members are dedicated to advancing the knowledge, experience and expertise of erosion and sediment control. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to develop performance standards, uniform testing procedures and guidance on the application and installation of hydraulic erosion control products (HECPs), rolled erosion control products (RECPs) and sediment retention fiber rolls (SRFRs). ECTC recently expanded its reach to other technologies as well, and it promotes the use of erosion and sediment control products through industry leadership and education in the hope of making a substantial contribution to the science of erosion control and environmental preservation.

Sediment is only one of the many pollutants that can be carried by stormwater runoff. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that sediment is the largest pollutant of our nation’s water bodies on a volume basis. Sediment causes many deleterious effects on waterways; it clogs the gills of fish, hinders photosynthesis by clouding the water column, eliminates precious spawning areas, smothers the eggs of many water organisms, and increases heat absorption. Sediment also commonly transports various nutrients, insecticides and herbicides, which all impair receiving water bodies when concentrated. Disturbed soil can be a major source of sediment, if not addressed properly. The need for sediment control practices can be reduced greatly by implementing sound erosion control products that keep the soil in place and prevent it from ever becoming entrained in runoff as sediment.

In 1972, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) was created in Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Under the new NPDES, discharges of pollutants from any point source into the nation’s waters were prohibited unless the discharge was covered by a NPDES permit. One of the main keys that would begin to advance erosion control awareness was that the program gave the EPA authority to regulate discharges into the nation’s waters. The EPA began regulating discharges by setting limits on the effluent introduced into a body of water from an operating and permitted facility. 

In 1977, Congress amended the CWA to enhance the NPDES program. The amendment made the program more in-depth with a focus  from conventional pollutants to toxic discharges.  Congress passed the Water Quality Act (WQA) in 1987, which required increased monitoring and assessing of water bodies. The goal of the changes  was to take the NPDES water quality standards from paper to measurable improvements in the nation’s waters. Additional amendments to the CWA in 1987 required the EPA to address stormwater runoff in two phases. Phase I of the NPDES Stormwater Program began in 1990 and applied to large and medium municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4) and 11 industrial categories including construction sites disturbing 5 acres (2 h) of land or more. Phase II of the NPDES Stormwater Program was to apply to additional MS4s and construction sites disturbing less than 5 acres (2 h) to 1 acre (.4 h) of land. 

Litigation that “forced” maturity and evolution of the erosion control industry the most was perhaps the implementation of NPDES Phase II in March 2003. Phase II required NPDES permits for disturbed sites as small as 1 acre (.4 h). NPDES permits for construction sites now required the owners and operators to implement programs and practices to control polluted stormwater runoff. This was a great shot in the arm for the erosion control industry because it was well documented by this time that unprotected soil was a major source of sediment-laden (polluted) runoff. Thus, with NPDES Phase II, it was no longer an option to implement best management practices (BMPs) on disturbed sites as small as 1 acre (.4 h) unless the owner was willing to risk potential NPDES fines for noncompliance. Today, erosion control requirements after disturbance is “part of everyday life” and our nation’s waters are benefiting. EPA litigations over the past 50 years are a major reason the erosion control industry has successfully evolved.

Erosion control products and practices were used during the 1970s and 1980s (the first erosion control blanket [ECB] was invented in the 1960s and the first turf reinforcement mat [TRM] was invented in the 1970s), but in the 1990s industry activity skyrocketed (additional versions of ECBs and TRMs evolved, and bonded fiber matrix [BFM] mulch was invented). With the further migration away from historical options such as straw bales and blown straw, the use of engineered, manufactured products and practices increased, and with it came the need for standardization means. Several progressive  RECP manufacturers recognized that standardized testing protocol, design specifications and installation methods were essential to the continued development of the expanding industry.  

In July 1992, ECTC was formed with a goal and vision to increase the use of performance-based erosion control products so our precious soil and water resources would be protected at a higher level. Almost everything is connected to the soil or to water resources. Thus, their protection and preservation is paramount for all. Many advancements have occurred within ECTC since its inception 30 years ago. Today, ECTC membership includes manufacturers of erosion control, sediment control and stormwater products; fabricators of products; component manufacturers; equipment manufacturers; distributors; consulting engineers; and testing laboratories. ECTC is a nonprofit organization that is funded mainly through membership dues. Over the years, ECTC has provided the industry with many tools such as specifications, installation guidelines and test methods, and it will continue to be an integral arm contributing to the advancement of the erosion control industry into the future.  

Contact ECTC to learn more about our members, tools and services. In addition, find a complete toolbox of specifications, CAD files, installation videos, fact sheets, etc. online at  

Please contact Jon Curry (, ECTC executive director, with any questions or comments regarding this article. He will be sure to communicate your feedback to ECTC membership, then provide a timely response. 

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