Driveway improvements for soil, water conservation


As we start the new year, many homeowners are considering what projects to complete around their house. Getting an early start to planning is a great idea, particularly if you need to engage a contractor to complete some of the work. If updating your driveway is on your to-do list in 2022, you may want to consider alternatives that support the natural function of the water cycle, both to protect the environment and to prevent recurring issues with your driveway. In subdivisions or municipalities, your property likely drains into a stormwater system that will carry any material that washes off developed areas to bodies of water. In rural areas, surface water is generally carried to streams or infiltrates to groundwater which is a source of drinking water for many. Preventing high volumes of runoff from your driveway helps keep our water clean and safe, and may save you money on installation or repairs.

Whether you’d like to upgrade a gravel or paved driveway, there are many options for a new or rehabilitated driveway. Paved driveways are a major source of rainwater runoff on residential lots, often carrying fluids from vehicles, road salt, and other contaminants. Alternatives to traditional unbroken stretches of pavement reduce the amount of water that flows from the driveway. Ribbon driveways are an increasingly popular choice; a ribbon driveway features two strips of driving surface (which can be gravel, pavement, or paver bricks) to allow for vehicle tires, with a strip of permeable surface in the middle. Adding soil and grass over a bed of gravel is an aesthetically pleasing choice for the center strip, while gravel alone is a lower-maintenance option. The permeable surface in the middle allows some rain water to infiltrate instead of flowing across the driveway. Ribbon driveways also decrease the quantity of materials needed compared to traditional driveways, reducing the cost, and help prevent freeze-thaw damage that traditional driveways frequently experience.

Asphalt and concrete are often the default for driveway surfaces, but there are more permeable options available as well. Permeable pavers are interlocking paving systems that allow water to easily infiltrate. Pavers come in a multitude of styles and are great options for patios and walkways as well, but they are typically more expensive than asphalt or concrete. Pervious concrete is an alternative to traditional concrete that allows high volumes of water to rapidly infiltrate, greatly reducing runoff and preventing most issues with ice in the winter. Pervious concrete is more expensive to install than traditional concrete and does require periodic maintenance to maintain porosity, but pervious concrete does not require sealing or recoating like traditional concrete or asphalt.

Gravel driveways are lower in cost and cause less runoff than paved driveways, but many homeowners find their driveways disappearing over time as the gravel sinks or is washed away. Proper design and the right materials help gravel driveways last longer. Remove all topsoil before installing the driveway and place a geotextile fabric before adding any material. This will help keep the gravel from sinking deep into the soil. At least two sizes of gravel should be used for the driveway. The base should be composed of large (4-6”) crushed rock. Once compacted, this layer stabilizes the driveway and allows for drainage between the irregularly shaped stones. Additional layers of smaller (2.5-3”) crushed stone before the final layer of gravel will help the longevity of the driveway. Many homeowners prefer the look of smooth gravel to crushed rock for the final layer, but be aware that smooth gravel is more likely to wash away from the driveway.

If surface water tends to cross the driveway, the driveway design needs to accommodate the flow to prevent washouts. Water crossings can be kept at the existing ground level (“at grade”), allowing the water to flow across the driveway freely. This option costs nothing additional to install, but it can be difficult to maintain. Alternatively, a culvert can be installed to allow the water to pass under the driveway. If the driveway is on a slope, gravel may wash toward the low point, leaving high points in the driveway bare. Gravel grids are panels of interconnected cells that can be added when installing the driveway. Grids come in varying sizes and strengths; when filled with gravel, they create a stronger driving surface and can be used to help stabilize slopes. Grids keep gravel in place and can also reduce the total amount of gravel needed to install a driveway.

Reminder – any leftover materials or containers from your project that are considered hazardous should be disposed of at approved locations. Never pour out hazardous liquids, including driveway sealants, lawn care chemicals, paint, varnish, etc. Hazardous liquids may interrupt treatment of wastewater if disposed of in sanitary sewer or septic systems. In storm drains, these liquids travel directly to bodies of water. In soil, liquids can contaminate soil and groundwater. Before utilizing a recycling or disposal service, you might try contacting family, friends, or local groups on social media to see if anyone has use for your unused materials. If not, find an appropriate disposal location or drop-off event. Residents of Delaware, Knox, Marion, or Morrow counties can participate in DKMM Solid Waste District collection events; check their website ( for more information.

Installing a driveway that works with the natural flow of water instead of against it will help prevent a prolonged battle between you and the surface water on your lot. To learn more about drainage, or to schedule an appointment for advice, please visit our website at or call the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District at 740-368-1921.

By Julie Watson-Ables

Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District

Julie Watson-Ables is resource conservationist at the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to

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