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Land Development Engineers Should Always Plan for Human Activity

Land development – altering the landscape from its natural or present state – can be accomplished for any number of reasons, from agriculture to housing to commercial development. Land development engineers are typically an integral part of this process, addressing design issues in street grading, paving, and storm sewers, in addition to the overall planning and platting.

The focus of much of this engineering are the twin environmental issues of flood control and erosion control. In that regard, consideration is given to the conditions surrounding the land in development, such as whether it is located on a flood plain, and whether adequate drainage exists or needs to be constructed.

Aside from the natural conditions of the landscape, another important factor that cannot be ignored is the impact of human activity on the site. For instance, landslides are a natural feature of the California landscape, as the dry season ignites wildfires in the chaparral, stripping mountainsides of their natural soil erosion control system – tree and plant root systems. When the rains come, there is nothing to hold back landslides from dumping tons of mud on roadways, homes and businesses, causing vast economic damage and sometimes loss of life.

Land development engineers can plan and prepare for natural landslides in a number of ways, but they should also consider the impact of irrigation and other human activity, which can compound the natural problem. A break in a sewer line or water line could exacerbate a potential landslide area as well. In April of 2010, a passenger train travelling near Merano, Italy derailed when it ran into a landslide on a mountainside, killing nine people and injuring dozens more. Speculation is that an irrigation pipe caused the landslide, either due to a burst pipe or by a valve being left open.

Whether irrigation and other human activity is present in the area or foreseeable as part of the planned development, land development engineers would do well to include this activity in their calculations and plan accordingly.

Engineering Design and Construction Expert Witness

Pierre Handl, P.E. evaluates disasters in California and nationwide to identify their cause and determine whether engineering design and construction played a role in the catastrophe. If you are involved in such a case and need an expert to advise you or appear as an expert witness, contact Engineering Expert Witnesses for a free initial consultation.

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