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Trees and Brush

Dam Safety: Trees and Brush 

The establishment and control of proper vegetation is an important part of dam maintenance. Properly maintained vegetation can help prevent erosion of embankment and earth channel surfaces, and aid in the control of groundhogs and muskrats. The uncontrolled growth of vegetation can damage embankments and concrete structures and make close inspection difficult. 

Trees and Brush 

Trees and brush should not be permitted on embankment surfaces or in vegetated earth spillways. Extensive root systems can provide seepage paths for water. Trees that blow down or fall over can leave large holes in the embankment surface that will weaken the embankment and can lead to increased erosion. Brush obscures the surface limiting visual inspection, provides a haven for burrowing animals, and retards growth of grass vegetation. Tree and brush growth adjacent to concrete walls and structures may eventually cause damage to the concrete and should be removed. 

Stump Removal and Sprout Prevention 

Stumps of cut trees should be removed so vegetation can be established and the surface mowed. Stumps can be removed either by pulling or with machines that grind them down. All woody material should be removed to about 6 inches below the ground surface. The cavity should be filled with well-compacted soil and grass vegetation established. Stumps and trees in riprap cannot usually be pulled or ground down, but can be chemically treated so they will not continually form new sprouts. Certain herbicides are effective for this purpose. 

These products should be painted, not sprayed, on the stumps. Other instructions found on the label should be strictly followed when handing and applying these materials. Only a few commercially available chemicals can be used along shorelines or near water. 

Embankment Measures 

Embankments, area adjacent to spillway structures, vegetated channels, and other areas associated with a dam require continual maintenance of the vegetal cover. Grass mowing, brush cutting, and removal of woody vegetation (including trees) are necessary for the proper maintenance of a dam, dike, or levee. All embankment slopes and vegetated earth spillways should be mowed at least once a year. Aesthetics, unobstructed viewing during inspections, maintenance of a non-erodible surface, and discouragement of groundhog habitation are reasons for proper maintenance of the vegetal cover. 

Methods used in the past for control of vegetation, but are now considered unacceptable, include chemical spraying, and burning. More acceptable methods include the use of weed whips or power brush-cutters and mowers. Chemical spraying to first kill small trees and brush is acceptable if precautions are taken to protect the local environment. 

It is important to remember not to mow when the embankment is wet. It is also important to use proper equipment for the slope and type of vegetation to be cut. Also, always follow the manufacturer's recommended safe operating procedures. For further information, you may want to consult Technical Manual for Dam Owners: Impact on Plant and Earthen Dams (FEMA 534). Any other questions, comments, or concerns, should be directed to: 

Dam Safety Program
EGLE, Water Resources Division
P.O. Box 30458
Lansing, Michigan 48909-7958