How to Recover When Your Field Floods
Every year there are many major challenges that confront the sports field manager. Late winter snow storms, frost depths, Bombogenesis Nor’easters, severe storms and tornadoes, heavy rains, and flooding — All work against field managers in meeting their deadlines to have their ball fields up and running on time, regardless of the season or sport. None of these weather events is more damaging and debilitating than a major flood on a sports field. It doesn’t matter if you have natural or artificial turf on your ball field, a flood is likely going to mean a whole lot of hard work ahead.
There are two primary types of flooding.
- Flooding from a moving body of water across your field. While this can reduce the amount of sediment that will settle out on your playing surface, it could also wash out your skinned infield if you have a baseball or softball field, depending on the speed and movement of the water. Moving water can also do tremendous damage to artificial turf by floating the turf upward and then pushing it into ripples or piles on the field surface.
- Flooding from the rise and eventual fall of a fairly stagnant pond of flood water. This type of flooding will likely deposit a layer of silt and clay wherever the flood water exists since there is no current to keep the silt and clay suspended. This layer can suffocate turfgrass and seal up even the best drainage systems depending on how thick the layer is and how quickly it can be removed after the flood event.
9 KEY STEPS to recovering your fields after a flood:
- Stay off the field. Do not go onto the ball field until all water is off and the ground is firm enough to support motorized equipment.
- Remove all large debris. Pick up and discard larger debris left behind by the flood.
- Clean off any deposited sediment. If sediment was deposited on the field, remove as much as possible on both grass areas and skinned infield areas. Scoop up and then wash off any remaining sediment on the turf blades immediately before the sediment dries too much.
- Aggressively cultivate our turf. With the majority of the sediment removed, cultivate the field to further remove and dilute any remaining sediment. Aerify with hollow tines. Collect the cores and apply topdressing using clean soil that is identical or slightly more coarse than existing soil. Drag the topdressing in and finish with a nice roll to ensure a smooth playing field.
- Overseed or sprig any badly damaged turf. Overseeding or sprigging in concert with the aerification process is the perfect answer to thickening your turf back to it’s previous glory.
- Amp up turf fertility program to replace leached nutrients. A flood will leach vital nutrients out of the soil. Remember to temporarily amp up your fertility program to build your nutrients back to proper levels for your turf and to assist the turf stand in it’s recovery.
- Scout for new weed outbreaks that can emerge. Flood waters can transport billions of weed seeds. Regularly scout your turf areas as recovery progresses. Chemically treat only if needed. As your turf stand recovers, the increased turf density should out compete most weeds.
- Be vigilant for turf disease development. If flooding occurs during warm and humid weather, be alert for elevated disease activity due to ideal conditions and if possible do preventative treatments as the existing turfgrass that survived will still be working to regain it’s strength and vigor.
- Consult with your insurance company (if you have artificial turf). Much of the remediation and repair may well be covered by your insurance. But even then, it will still take an extended period of time to put the field back into play and make it safe for usage. Be sure to conduct a drainage analysis to gauge the status of the usually extensive drainage system. A certified installer for the type of turf system you have should be involved in evaluating what steps are needed to bring the artificial surface safely back on line.
Bonus Tip: Most importantly, after you have gone through an flooding event like this at your ballfield facility, conduct a review of the event to identify what could have been done differently in the future to minimize damage to the facility and to ensure the safety of all who work and play there should a similar event happen again. Write up a plan, distribute it to all involved, and be sure that each person knows their responsibility to protect life and property.
The National Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and it’s charitable wing, the SAFE Foundation, have issued an excellent 5-page bulletin dealing with flooding on sports fields. Some of which was used for this article.