Q.: Typical silt fence fabric seems to work fine but there’s a lot of maintenance. Are hay or straw bales better?

A.: Different locales take different approaches to this problem. Some use a performance measure: “Keep the mud off the street and out of the storm system—how you do it is up to you.” In general, hay bales work even if they aren’t properly staked whereas silt fences work only if properly installed and maintained. Silt fence has better drainage characteristics, but straw bales are more stable and foolproof. Some cities will ask contractors to add extra posts on the silt fence, others will have the contractor install two rows of silt fence along sensitive areas. One row may get trampled by equipment, but the second row provides siltation control. Silt fence manufacturers really need to come up with a better installation technique. Occasionally, permitting authorities will insist that a Certified Professional Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Specialist (CPESC) prepare the SWPPP and inspect for compliance on major developments. But at the individual residential lot level, that isn’t really practical, so building officials, inspectors, and contractors should be trained.