Maintenance of Hillside Homesites for Slope Stability and Erosion Control

The purpose of the Hillside Consensus Workshop Process (HCWP) is to facilitate the Ventura community and hillside landowners working together to identify a mutually satisfactory concept for the future of the hillsides. Ventura Hillsides On-Line Information Center --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The following information is from GeoSoils, Inc. - Geotechnical - Geologic - Environmental 6634 Valjean Avenue, Van Nuys, CA 91406 Telephone: 818-785-2158

Maintenance of Hillside Homesites for Slope Stability and Erosion Control

During the wet weather season, homeowners living in houses placed on fill (man-placed earth) or in the vicinity of excavated (cut) or fill slopes, become concerned about the condition of their building site. In general, modern design and construction practices minimize the likelihood of serious landsliding (slope failure). The grading codes of the local jurisdictions (Cities and Counties) in California concerning filled land, excavation, terracing and slope construction are among the most stringent in the Country. In addition, most hillside developments have been constructed according to critical professional standards. Therefore, the concern of the homeowner should be directed towards maintaining slopes, drainage provisions and facilities so that they will perform as designed. The following general recommendations and simple precautions are presented to help Guide in the maintenance of hillside homesites.

In general, public often regards the natural terrain as stable -- "terra firma". This is of course an erroneous concept. Nature is always at work, altering the landscape. Hills and mountains are worn down by mass wasting (erosion, landsliding, creeping soil, etc.) and the valleys and low-land collect these products. Thus, the natural process is towards leveling the terrain. Periodically (over millions of years) major land movements rebuild mountains and hills, and these processes begin over again. In some areas these processes are very slow, and in others they occur at a relatively rapid rate.

The development of hillsides for residential use is carried out, insofar as possible, to enhance the natural stability of the site and to minimize the probability of instability resulting from the grading necessary to provide homesites, streets, yards, etc. This has been done by the developer and designers on the basis of geologic and soil engineering investigations. However, in order to be successful, the slope and drainage provisions and facilities must be maintained by you, the homeowner.

As a homeowner you are accustomed to maintaining your home; that is, you expect to paint your house periodically, clean out clogged plumbing, repair roofs, etc. Maintenance of a hillside homesite must be considered on an even more serious basis because neglect can result in serious consequences. In most cases, lot and site maintenance can be provided along with normal care of the grounds and landscaping. Any costs of maintenance are far cheaper to you than repair after neglect.

Most hillside lost problems are associated with water. Uncontrolled water from a broken pipe, septic tank, excess landscape watering, or wet weather cause most damage. Wet weather is the principal time of slope problems in California because the rainfall is quite variable and may be torrential or prolonged. Therefore, drainage and erosion control are important aspects of homesite stability and the provisions built into the developed lot must not be altered without competent professional advice. Maintenance of the provisions must be carried out to assure their continued operation. Therefore, we offer the following list of "Do's" and "Don'ts" as a Guide to you:


1. Check roof drains, gutters and downspouts to be sure they are clear. Depending on your location, if you do not have roof gutters and downspouts, you may wish to install them because roof and their wide space can shed tremendous quantities of water. Without gutters or other adequate drainage provisions, water falling from the eaves, collects against the foundation and basement walls which is undesirable.

2. Clear drainage ditches and check them frequently during the rainy season. Ask your neighbors to do likewise.

3. Check interceptor (brow) ditches at the top of slopes to be sure that they are clear and that water will not overflow the slope, causing erosion.

4. Be sure that all drain outlets and weep-holes are open and clear of debris, vegetation and other material which could block them in a storm. If blockage is evident, have it cleared.

5. Check for loose fill above and below your property if you live on a slope for terrace.

6. Limit watering or stop altogether the watering during the rainy season when little irrigation is required. Over-saturation of the ground can cause major subsurface damage.

7. If you change landscaping on the slopes, disturb the soil as little as possible and use drought resistant type plants that require a minimum amount of landscape irrigation.

8. Watch for water backup inside the house at sump drains and toilets, since this indicates drain or sewer blockage.

9. Watch for wet spots on your property. These may be natural seeps or in indication of a broken water or sewer line. In either case, obtain competent advise regarding the problem and its correction.

10. Exercise ordinary precaution. Your house and building site were constructed to meet standards which should protect against most natural occurrences, provided you do your part in maintaining them.


1. DON'T over-irrigate slopes or leave a hose or sprinkler running unattended on or near a slope. Ground cover and other vegetation will require moisture during the hot summer months, but during the wet season irrigation can cause ground cover to pull loose, which not only destroys the cover, but also starts serious erosion. Fifteen minutes watering per day is considered the maximum necessary to develop and maintain good plant growth in Southern California.

2. DON'T alter lot grading without competent advice. The man-made slopes on your lot were designed to carry away water runoff to a place where it can be safely distributed.

3. DON'T block, or alter ditches which have been graded around your house or lot pad. These shallow ditches have been put there for the purpose of quickly removing water toward the driveway, street or other positive outlet.

4. DON'T block or alter ditches or drains. If several homes rely on the same facilities, it is a good idea to check with your neighbors. Water backed up on their property may eventually reach you. Water backed up in surface drains will overflow and infiltrate slopes, which leads to instability. Maintain the ground surface upslope of lined ditches to ensure that surface water is collected in the ditch and is not permitted to collect behind or flow under the lining.

5. DON'T permit water to collect or pond anywhere on your lot. Such water will either seep into the ground, causing unwanted saturation, or will overflow onto slopes and begin erosion. Once erosion is started, it is difficult to control, and severe damage may result rather quickly.

6. DON'T direct water over slopes even where this may seem a good way to prevent ponding. This tends to cause erosion and slope instability.

7. DON'T let water pond against foundation, retaining walls and basement walls. These walls are built to withstand the ordinary moisture in the ground and, where necessary, are accompanied by subdrains to carry off excess subsurface water. However, excess surface water must be directed away from these structures.

8. DON'T connect roof drains, gutters or downspouts to existing subsurface drains which may not have been designed for that purpose. Instead, collect the water in lined ditches or unperforated pipes and conduct it to a storm drain, paved road or a suitable area of natural ground. Where such channel flow is directed onto natural ground, it must be converted to sheet flow unless a suitable natural channel exists.

9. DON'T discharge surface water into septic tanks or leaching fields. Not only are septic tanks constructed for a different purpose, but they will tend, because of their construction, to accumulate additional water from the ground during a heavy rain. Overloading them artificially during the rainy season is bad from a slope stability standpoint, and is doubly dangerous since their overflow can pose a serious health hazard. We generally recommend that the use of septic tanks be discontinued as soon as sewers are made available.

10. DON'T try to compact earth in trenches by flooding with water. Not only is flooding the least efficient way of compacting fine-grained soil, but this could saturate and reduce the bearing capacity of supporting soils.

11. In conclusion, your neighbor's slope, above or below your property, is as important to you as the slope that is within your property lines. For this reason, it is desirable to develop a cooperative attitude regarding hillside maintenance, and we recommend developing a "good neighbor" policy. Should conditions develop off your property which are undesirable from indications given above, necessary action should be taken by you to ensure that prompt remedial measures are taken.

Information from GeoSoils, Inc. - Geotechnical - Geologic - Environmental 6634 Valjean Avenue, Van Nuys, CA 91406 Telephone: 818-785-2158

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